Father Stu Review

Father Stu
Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg), an amateur boxer from Montana, is told by doctors to give up the sport. Adrift in life, he attempts to become an actor. His efforts to woo Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), a Catholic, bring him to religion; a near-death experience leads him to the priesthood. But his health issues soon catch up with him. 

by John Nugent |
Release Date:

13 May 2022

Original Title:

Father Stu

Father Stuart Long was a real-life boxer who became a Catholic priest after a motorcycle crash triggered a religious experience, only for him to then develop a debilitating muscular disease. It’s a true story seemingly tailor-made for the cinematic treatment, especially filmmakers such as Mark Wahlberg — also a producer here, who reportedly funnelled millions from his own wallet into the project — looking for explicitly faith-based narratives.

Father Stu

As the titular Stu, Wahlberg puts in a committed performance, and compared to the studied indifference of his recent blockbuster efforts, he at least seems to be trying here. Stu is exactly the kind of salt-of-the-earth hothead that Wahlberg is provably strongest at, even if his accent — which seems to be Texas by way of Boston, although the real Stu was from Montana — is a little all over the map. This is evidently a passion project for the actor-producer and his physical transformation on screen, as Stu’s physical deterioration accelerates in the film’s latter half, is stark. (Wahlberg apparently gained 30 lb for the role, claiming to have drunk a cup of olive oil every morning.)

The film seems confused by its priorities: is it a biopic, or religious propaganda?

But the film seems confused by its priorities: is it a biopic, or religious propaganda? The opening act wants us to consider it a character study of working-class Americans struggling to find their way through life; an Americana jukebox of a soundtrack — Johnny Cash and ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ among the tracks on it — confirms the folksy approach. Some of the material about macho men wrestling impotently with their emotions — Wahlberg punches a statue of Jesus at one point — works well enough, even if it’s occasionally patronising. But Mel Gibson, cast here as an unpleasant alcoholic who barks slurs from his pick-up truck, is a wild misfire, and feels uncomfortably close to the tabloid headlines of reality. (The reunion of Gibson and Wahlberg playing a father and son will at least give cheer to any remaining fans of Daddy’s Home 2.)

By the end, first-time writer-director Rosalind Ross seems to opt for just empty proselytising, veering into Lifetime-levels of cheese. When Stu finally finds God, it comes after a vision of the Virgin Mary and some soft-focus rosary-bead stroking, shot like a megachurch commercial. His is a story that could offer up an exploration of faith and how it intersects with sacrifice and adversity, but after an intriguing opening act, the filmmakers go for the less interesting route. As far as faith-based films go this year, watch Benedetta instead.

Mark Wahlberg is convincing and committed as a foul-mouthed Father, but this is ultimately just religious propaganda — preaching exclusively to the converted. 
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