Movie Review: Father Stu

Father Stu is a biographical drama based on the life of Father Stuart Long, a boxer-turned priest whose conversion saw him move from a path of self-destruction to redemption. Written and directed by Rosalind Ross, this film stars Mark Wahlberg, Teresa Ruiz, Mel Gibson, Malcolm MacDowell and Jacki Weaver.

Based on a true story, there’s real inspiration at its core as a man battles against the odds to find redemption. Stumbling into some funny altercations along the way to priesthood, Father Stu is more rousing than heartwarming as its scrappy lead gets himself into trouble and operates with sheer determination even when knowingly headed in the wrong direction.

Mark Wahlberg is a fighter and underdog whose film career has been characterised by his “everyman” disposition, a blend of Tom Hanks and Dwayne Johnson. While he may not be the perfect fit for this transformative coming-of-age drama, it’s not for a lack of trying. Starting as a spirited and reckless boxer with his heart set on making it big in Hollywood, the young man attempts to romance a churchgoing Catholic girl, who points the way to his true calling. Charming, determined and full of pluck, Wahlberg ensures there’s never a dull moment in this high contrast tale of two halves.

father stu film

“You’ve always been in my corner.”

Wahlberg’s valiant performance and the slow-boiling power of this true story keep it in-line as the word conversion comes to stand for a great many things. Not cast for Long’s likeness, he’s also a bit old to play Long across the board but fills the gaps with pure conviction and charisma – a testament to his ability as an actor. Supported by a cast of veterans, he’s in good company, reprising his on-screen role as Mel Gibson’s son after Daddy’s Home 2.

Beyond its attempt to find true north, it’s not all that remarkable. Father Stu’s a wonderful showcase for Wahlberg who’s able to wrestle with a truly transformative performance but this character portrait straddles the fence, never quite sure of its true identity much like its title character. While this undermines the film’s overall entertainment value, Father Stu’s never so bad as to become unwatchable. Perhaps the movie could’ve had a more curious tension starting with Stuart’s induction into the Catholic seminary.

Much like Wahlberg’s personal convictions when it comes to faith, Father Stu doesn’t try to preach or manipulate with its message of redemption. Instead, it’s more concerned with telling a powerful, transformative and altogether entertaining story that happens to be about a man of the cloth. Ross doesn’t pull any punches as Stu’s rough upbringing and run-ins with the police hit home. There’s no clean up on aisle 5, conveying an authentic representation of the man’s rudderless lifestyle as his mission becomes clear.

The bottom line: Entertaining

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