Father Stu (2022)
"Father Stu" stars Mark Wahlberg, Jacki Weaver, Mel Gibson, Teresa Ruiz, Cody Fern, Niko Nicotera, and Malcolm McDowell. Released on April 13, 2022, the film is about a boxer who decides to become a priest.
The film was written and directed by Rosalind Ross in her directorial debut. We are all destined to be better people. Just ask the guy who served our Lord and savior. Last week brought us another biographical drama centering on a real-life figure that I knew nothing about. This time, it's a former boxer named Stuart Long, who switched careers following a tragic accident. Despite his autoimmune disease, Long served as a priest until his retirement in 2010 and his eventual death in 2014. Eight years later, the folks at Hollywood decided to share Long's journey with the rest of the world, with Mark Wahlberg serving as the star and producer. Seeing Wahlberg's name in the credits is enough for me to experience Long's conversion firsthand, even though I'm not a religious person myself. With that said, let's see if this drama can praise the Lord.
The story chronicles the life of Stuart Long (Wahlberg), a man struggling with his life choices after an injury ended his boxing career. He then volunteers to work at a church after meeting and falling in love with a Catholic woman named Carmen (Ruiz). One day, Long is sent to the hospital following a near-death motorcycle accident, where he experiences a religious conversion. As a result, Long decides to become a priest. Despite suffering from inclusion body myositis and the disapproval of his parents, Kathleen (Weaver) and Bill (Gibson), Long sets out to become part of the priesthood and be a better person.
Movies with religious themes aren't usually my strongest aspect in terms of reviewing them. While I can't argue with its intentional motives, it was challenging for me and several non-believers to get past their campy and low-quality nature, let alone review them without angering their target audience. The last time I reviewed something that lacks a balance between religion and quality was "Samson" in 2018. I had to pray to God to forget what I'd just witnessed. However, my body became cleansed a year later, thanks to another faith-based drama, "Breakthrough". This film appears to be another religious-related drama that's attempting to provide some quality to coincide with its preaching to our Lord and Savior. Like "Breakthrough", "Father Stu" unsurprisingly means well with its respectful examination of its real-life events, mainly Stuart's journey. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer much else to emphasize its crucial depiction.
One of the things that made the film worthwhile for its target audience is the narrative. While it has elements related to Catholicism, the movie doesn't go out of its way to shove it down people's throats as most faith-based films do nowadays. If I wanted to be bombarded with that stuff, I would watch "Veggietales" at home. Instead, "Father Stu" uses those elements to provide a dramatic story about faith and forgiveness. Throughout the film, we see Stuart transition from being a self-centered jerk to a caring and thoughtful priest, thanks to his religious experience. More importantly, he strives to make his dream a reality despite his muscle disease slowing him down. This seems like a fantastic story to tell, especially during this time, as it represents that everyone can change for the better. Furthermore, it shows that it's never too late to be the best person you can be despite your past mistakes. These messages and the film's decent quality should be enough to make specific people want to believe in faith. It's too bad that I wasn't one of them.
While the storyline is intentionally thoughtful in its themes, I found the execution surprisingly underwhelming. There are several ideas thrown in the film that would've made it a true crowd-pleaser for me, including the relationship between Stuart and his father and the former's redemption. However, those ideas are sadly not fleshed out enough to deliver a compelling drive in its narrative. It's almost like the movie is on cruise control throughout its two-hour trip without any emotional turns to make it more exciting. Rosalind Ross, the writer and director of the film, did the best she could to provide some tolerability in her screenplay and style, and I respect that determination. But the fumbling execution, along with its slow pacing and average biopic formula, overshadows that effort, making the film a tough one to swallow for people outside of its target audience.
There have been plenty of talks about Mark Wahlberg's portrayal of Stuart Long, with most people saying that he was "miscast" in the leading role. But, if I were to be honest with you guys, I'm not seeing any real issue with it regarding the casting. What matters the most is how he performs as the late Catholic priest. After all, he did gain some weight for this role. Like Rosalind Ross, Wahlberg made a noticeable effort to deliver something watchable regarding his performance, even though his attempts at bringing charm into his character's persona fell flat in some scenes. Jacki Weaver was also decent in her role as Kathleen, and Mel Gibson continues his own redemption arc in the film industry, thanks to his decent portrayal of Bill.
Overall, "Father Stu" means well with its thoughtful messages and quality. Sadly, it lacks the emotional core needed to answer all of its intended prayers. It's one of the more tolerable movies centered on religious faith, but it's also one of the below-average dramas you would find on a streaming service. Despite its hard-working cast and themes, the film is a sluggish representation of the path towards faith due to its disappointing plot, direction, and pacing. It's worth a watch if you're into films that offer faith in their stories and themes. However, if you're praying for it to be the first award-worthy biopic of the year, chances are it won't be answered.
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