Father Stu

Father Stu

2022, R, 124 min. Directed by Rosalind Ross. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz, Malcolm McDowell.

REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., April 15, 2022

Right from the jump, Father Stu feels suspiciously calculated.

One look at the poster, suitable for inclusion somewhere in Tropic Thunder, makes it easy to tell how much this reeks of cliche Catholic pandering, complete with the hilariously hacky tagline of “God wanted a fighter … and he found one.” A glance at the top-billed cast and crew only causes more raised eyebrows: Mark Wahlberg, who serves as a producer and in the title role as a reformed degenerate who finds God; Mel Gibson as the vitriolic, alcoholic father that finds his own salvation; and directing it all would be Rosalind Ross, Gibson’s own current partner.

This just all feels a little dubious given that Wahlberg and Gibson have both had their share of negative press for violent and racist behavior in their past. Wahlberg hasn’t lost any work, but his role here feels like a continuation of a Good Samaritan tour he started last year with the equally sentimental Joe Bell. Gibson’s comeback has been years in the making and seems to finally be coming to a head with multiple upcoming big projects, but this role sees him continuing to ease his way in as he convinces the masses that even the worst people are worthy of forgiveness. I don’t want to discredit any work Ross has put into her career, but her personal connection to the project just makes this feel even more like personal rehabilitation – especially considering this is her first feature.

Making all the context worse is the fact that this transparent redemption arc attempt is based on a true story that they turn into a generic, by-the-numbers (if slightly edgier than normal), faith-based drama. Wahlberg steps into the shoes of Stuart Long and begins the film as a professional boxer before getting too injured to continue. That’s when he tells his disapproving mother, Kathleen (Weaver), that he’s moving to Los Angeles to become an actor. That mostly falls through, too, but a moment of divine intervention falls into his lap as he meets the supposed love of his life, Carmen (Ruiz), at his supermarket meat-counter job. He stalks her to her church, and she resists his advances until he finally wins her over with that ever so winning charm.

Stu reluctantly attends church for her but his outlook changes after surviving a deadly motorcycle accident and suddenly he is ready to accept his real true love into his life: That’s right, the man upstairs himself. Hallelujah. Stu focuses his energy into becoming a priest before he’s faced with a rare disease that mimics the symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease, which forces this former boxer to begin the real fight: continuing to serve God in the face of everything.

I would hate to deride the real Father Stu amidst all this; by all accounts, he seems like he helped a lot of people in finding their relationship with their religion, and he certainly doesn’t seem to have had an easy life. It’s just so easy to deconstruct this movie to its barest elements and see just how derivative it is. The only thing that sets it apart from other hokey Christian dramas is that Wahlberg and Gibson get to say say “fuck” every now and then. While it feels the slightest bit more authentic not being overly sanitized, it’s hardly something that makes this any more memorable.

The closest it gets to the spiritual ascendancy it aspires to is in later segments, as Stu struggles to remain faithful and stay true to his purpose as he learns to live with his condition. But Ross’ script is never able to pull this out of the depths of trite banality, every line and emotional beat clocked from a mile away and cribbed from every other faith-based drama you’ve ever seen. It’s nothing short of comical. If this is what a good movie about struggling with religion is supposed to look like, God help us.

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Father Stu, Rosalind Ross, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz, Malcolm McDowell

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