Do you believe that everyone deserves forgiveness? Do you think people can change? However, you answer those questions, what makes you think that way? What if people can change? What if a former boxer, living an agnostic life, suddenly becomes a churchgoing, religious individual? Does this sound like the plot of a movie to you? Well, it is. However, the movie, Father Stu, is based on a real person. The Mark Wahlberg (Uncharted) "passion project" has been six years in the making, after Wahlberg learned about Stuart Long from two priests, he was having dinner with one evening. In fact, he was so fascinated by Father Stu's life that he eventually helped to finance the movie and the result opens this week, appropriately during Easter weekend.
Stuart Long (Wahlberg) was born in Seattle, Washington but lived most of his life in Helena, Montana. During college, he became a boxer until a jaw injury derailed his dreams. He then aspired to be an actor but, after a few commercials and small roles, he became disillusioned with the industry.
That is when he met Carmen (Teresa Ruiz; Narcos: Mexico), a devoutly religious person who attended church weekly. Of course, Stu becomes a regular at Church and wins Carmen over but after a near-fatal motorcycle accident, Stu realizes what his life has been leading up to...becoming a priest. God, however, had other plans.
Wahlberg may be the perfect person to play Stuart Long as he can relate to having a less than stellar start to becoming "reformed". Wahlberg was a "wild child" of sorts early in his career - partying, making insensitive comments aimed at certain groups of individuals, etc - but he eventually grew up and is now a husband, father, and more religious than he was in his youth. Unfortunately, his former troubles don't translate onscreen, and his performance is somewhat wooden.
Stu's father is played by veteran actor, Mel Gibson (Braveheart) who brings a surly, grumpy old man air to the role while Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) portrays Stuart's mom. All three actors have a good rapport and chemistry, making them seem as if they are a "family" - dysfunctional as they may be. However, I'm not sure Ruiz was the right choice to play Stu's love interest as she and Wahlberg don't have much onscreen chemistry.
Making her directorial debut, writer Rosalind Ross (Barbarian) made some interesting choices as to what moments in Stu's life she chose to focus on the most. However, trying to fit so much material into a short timeframe doesn't really lend itself to as much plot development as this type of story warrants. The two-hour run time feels rushed yet somehow seems to drag at the same time. The editing isn't great which only adds to the mish-mosh nature of the storytelling.
Stuart Long was an interesting person who ultimately ended up touching so many lives before he was unfortunately taken much too soon. He was somewhat unconventional in his duties as a priest, but he left an impression on those he served to the point that once his disease made it impossible for him to go to them, they went to him.
Father Stu may not have lived the most pious life, but he was real and honest which is what allowed people to relate to him and made him an endearing figure. Many people acutely felt his death and mourned the loss of a good but flawed man. It is a testament to his enduring legacy that a star like Wahlberg felt almost compelled to make this movie. If only the execution had lived up to the intent.