Father Stu Review


Thomas Farrell, Contributor

It seems like it’s a tall order for Americans to make a truly good Christian movie. There are plenty of great examples from The King of Kings to The Passion of the Christ, but it’s an art that has been lost in recent years. Unfortunately, all we’re left with are lowest common denominator products like God’s Not Dead that only serve to preach to the choir and have no artistic merit or interesting hooks for non-believers. Father Stu continues this recent trend as while the story is compelling and there are real attempts at delivering some actual religious messaging beyond simple platitudes, it fails both as an accurate representation of the real Father Stu and as a film.

Father Stu is the latest vehicle for Mark Wahlberg, who put on over 30 pounds to play the titular character. It tells the story of boxer-turned-priest Stuart Long. As a boxer, Stu is an alcoholic and a fairly unambitious person. Following a career ending injury, Stu moves to Los Angeles to become an actor and meets a Roman Catholic girl who becomes his girlfriend. To try to win her heart, he becomes interested in religion. However, following an almost-fatal motorcycle accident, he becomes truly convinced of the faith and gets baptized. Much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, he decides he will become a priest, which means they need to stop dating. Throughout his time in seminary, he develops a rare autoimmune disease that results in the loss of motor function, but that does not stop him from becoming a priest before his death at the age of 50. Oh yeah, and throughout all of this he has some drama with his degenerate and absent father, played by Mel Gibson.

It’s a classic story of redemption and is a perfect fit for a film released during Holy Week. Everyone likes to know that people have the capacity to change for the better. And while the plot just described makes for a nicely marketable story, it’s not entirely accurate to the real man. Of course, this kind of movie doesn’t need to be completely accurate, but it picks and chooses from a number of elements in his life to make him seem like much more of a helpless case than he actually was. One needs only to watch a couple videos of the real man to tell that the dialogue they have Wahlberg speak throughout the film is not what the real man would’ve said.

Okay, fine, the movie isn’t perfectly accurate. We can live with that as long as all the other elements are enjoyable, and to some extent, they are. There is a nice emotional payoff at the end and some of the monologues are both written well and delivered effectively. I can see it playing very well with an older, religious audience. Unfortunately, the characters do not feel realistic, much of the writing is poor, and there’s nothing special about the way the plot is constructed. It simply does not offer anything new and will fail to captivate general audiences of non-believers or other religions as something like Of Gods and Men would.

The watchable-but-unremarkable nature of the script extends to the technical aspects of Father Stu as well. It looks like a cheap, direct-to-streaming movie without much thought put into how to tell the story in a visually creative manner. There are only a couple sequences that even attempt to do anything remotely clever. One occurs following the near-fatal crash where he is visited by an apparition of Mary. The other apes the training montages from the Rocky films but augments exercise with praying and reading the bible.

Father Stu is by no means a bad movie, it’s simply one that doesn’t add anything new to the conversation. It does effectively deliver a powerful story of redemption, even if it’s not entirely accurate, but it’s much too unfocused and no-frills to offer something transcendent. It’s watchable, reasonably enjoyable and impactful and the perfect release for people to see during Easter Weekend. If the story interests you or you like these kinds of movies, it’s definitely worth seeing in theaters or when it inevitably comes to a streaming service.