Mark Wahlberg plays his usual type in this tired, predictable film about a boxer-turned-priest from writer-director Rosalind Ross.
There’s a peculiar feeling to Father Stu; on one hand it feels exactly the type of project that should attract plenty of attention and awards buzz. At least, it would have, about two decades ago.
But it’s also so middle of the road and risk-free in everything it does, that it’s astonishing it has attracted such a starry cast.
Mark Wahlberg plays Stuart Long, a boxer who moves to Hollywood to be an actor. Instead, he becomes a supermarket meat counter assistant, but he does meet the love of his life, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). Carmen is a devout Catholic which prompts Stu to get baptized; when Stuart gets into a serious motorcycle accident, he finds his true purpose as a priest.
Oh, and did we mention he gets diagnosed with an incurable muscle disease?
It’s all a bit much for one man and one film. Father Stu is based on a true story, but some editing and artistic licence would have been useful and appreciated. Father Stu is one of those films where knowing as little about it as possible going in helps, mostly because the entire film is laid out in the film’s trailer. The whole story hits every single beat you expect it to and then, nothing. It just ends.
Familiarity and cliches aren’t always a bad thing, but the involvement of Mel Gibson makes Father Stu a weird film to experience. Gibson plays almost a version of himself; as Stu’s father, Bill, he’s stubborn, offensive and overall, a bit of a dick. What makes it even more uncomfortable is that Gibson is actually pretty good at playing such a character, but it’s near impossible to ignore his troubling actions and words from the past.
Wahlberg and Gibson have decent chemistry, but Jacki Weaver as Stu’s mother Kathleen is completely wasted in a paper thin role. Ruiz, although charming, doesn’t get much to work with either. Perhaps Father Stu works best as a film about masculinity and what happens when a man who has always defined himself by physical actions and his physique all of a sudden finds it crumbling from under him.
It’s a shame that Wahlberg seems to be on autopilot playing Stu. Father Stu is a passion project for Wahlberg, who funded it mostly by himself and gained a significant amount of weight to play the older Stu. He loves a sweary role and he gets to swear plenty here, but there’s simply too much to cover, certain life events and plot points to hit, which is away from exploring the character himself.
Writer-director Rosalind Ross directs Father Stu with a heavy hand. Ross is Gibson’s real life partner and the film does feel similar to Gibson’s own films that often include a heavy dose of religion. Jacques Jouffret’s cinematography is obvious and overstated and the film’s score, by Dickon Hinchliffe, is intrusive and manipulative.
Uncharted was a good reminder that Wahlberg is actually a better comic actor than he is a dramatic one. Father Stu is frustrating and way too long at two hours, a runtime that never justifies itself. Of course, the story of a man who found his purpose in God but then faced immense Earthly struggles will appeal to many, but Father Stu constantly feels like a relic from the 90s.