Father Stu, 2022.
Written and Directed by Rosalind Ross.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz, Malcolm McDowell, Annet Mahendru, Cody Fern, Winter Ave Zoli, Ned Bellamy, Michael Fairman, Niko Nicotera, Alain Uy, Carlos Leal, Annie Lee, Aaron Moten, Tenz McCall, Penny L. Moore, and Molly Baker.
Follows the life of Father Stuart Long, a boxer-turned-priest who inspired countless people during his journey from self-destruction to redemption.
Well, this one is a wild ride. Father Stu is a 1990s-set biopic that stars Mark Wahlberg in the eponymous role as a directionless trainwreck that goes from punching bag boxer to aspiring Hollywood actor to flirting with a Sunday school teacher to becoming a man of the cloth. Smashed in between is a dysfunctional family coming together in the wake of Stu’s ups and downs and a third-act turn that, while handled respectably and with a committed physical transformation, also comes across like traditional Oscar bait.
Unfortunately, Father Stu succumbs to such schmaltz, but the narrative feature debut from writer and director Rosalind Ross also benefits from Mark Wahlberg’s charisma and knack for snappy wiseass retorts. At one point, Stu says that maybe bad apples need to hear the good Lord’s words from someone that was not only a bit rough around the edges like them but still is. Initially, it comes across as another ridiculous notion from Stu until a scene features him talking to a group of prisoners with down-to-earth candor.
Another wise decision here is not to treat the film like a Sunday school special because it deals with religious themes. Right from the beginning, Father Stu is filled with foul language and complicated characters, suggesting that the biopic has more on its mind than preaching faith (as many pointless try-hard Easter adjacent releases do). Stu swears like a sailor and wants to continue boxing even though his injuries are becoming more dangerous, and his neurotic mom (played by Jacki Weaver) insists he gives it up. Then there’s the estranged relationship with his father, Bill (Mel Gibson), who had put down every one of his son’s interests since childhood when the boy wanted to be a rock ‘n roll singer.
Immediately, it’s worth mentioning that Mark Wahlberg has chemistry with everyone involved, whether it’s riffing off one another with Mel Gibson in a dicey father-son dynamic, alleviating his mom’s concerns, or utilizing some truly ridiculous methods and pickup lines when it comes to courting Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), whether it be using his “bad boy charm” or instantly agreeing to get baptized and taking Catholic values more seriously. There are also small moments where he amusingly twists passages and words around for his own flirting and benefit.
Still, Stu is something of a screwup at heart, and even when he does succeed at doing the right thing, life doesn’t exactly hand him a reward. There are automobile accidents, muscular diseases, and an uphill battle proving his worth to a church that doesn’t want to ordain him. Some of these elements are fine, whereas others open the door for Father Stu to take some questionable approaches with thoughts on suffering and physical disabilities. People are never defined by their physical limitations, but promoting such a disability as a necessity for finding humbleness and humility doesn’t go down smooth.
Additionally, the film suffers from the usual biopic problems of covering too much ground within two hours. As a result, Father Stu is mostly all over the place, never entirely driving home the parallel between Stu’s boxing fighting warrior spirit and his willingness to serve as a priest despite failing health. It also jumps around in focus to a degree where I’m not sure I ever entirely bought Stu and Carmen to fall in love. Sure, there is an attraction, but the narrative is first and foremost concerned with barreling ahead to the next major hurdle in life. The same applies to the family slowly healing and coming back together.
However, Stu is a rambunctiously well-meaning person, allowing Mark Wahlberg to act to his strengths, making for a relatively engaging view. It needs a little bit of holy water to clear up some of its misguided messages and overstuffed plotting, but you also won’t need confession for finding enjoyment. It’s another terrific performance from Mark Wahlberg inside an average or problematic movie, which isn’t a surprise lately.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com