Father Stu

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Father Stu
dir-scr Rosalind Ross
prd Jordon Foss, Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg
with Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz, Malcolm McDowell, Aaron Moten, Cody Fern, Carlos Leal, Tenz McCall, Annie Lee, Ned Bellamy, Winter Ave Zoli
release US 15.Apr.22,
UK 13.May.22
22/US 2h04

gibson weaver mcdowell

Is it streaming?

wahlberg and weaver
Based on a true story, this movie visibly strains to be inspirational, piling melodrama on top of faith-based sentiment. A gritty and understated approach would have made the story much more involving, and it would have given the solid actors more nuance to work with along the way. Because despite the simplistic filmmaking, this is a complex, moving narrative about a scrappy underdog who finds purpose in life.
In early 1990s Montana, 40-year-old hotshot Stuart (Wahlberg) must retire from boxing due to his health. His mother Kathleen (Weaver) encourages him to find a new calling, perhaps with his estranged father Bill (Gibson) in Los Angeles. But while Stu does head to California, he instead decides to become an actor. Struggling to get noticed, he falls for Carmen (Ruiz), a faithful attendee at the local Catholic church. Stu plays the game to get her attention, but the core truths of Christianity begin challenging his self-destructive impulses. And he decides to train as a priest.
Wahlberg plays Stu with a mix of arrogance and intelligence, charming as he verbally and sometimes physically spars with anyone nearby. Although the worst he ever does on-screen is smoke, drink and swear. Writer-director Ross keeps the scenes sunny and clear-eyed, nicely depicting Stu's life while never trying to get into his perspective. This leaves several plot threads feeling rather cursory, such as the sneery young seminarian (Fern) who rolls his eyes at everything Stu says or does, like some sort of requisite nemesis.

Performances are rather big for such a thoughtful movie. Wahlberg goes through a staggering physical transformation as this muscled boxer is walloped by a grisly motorbike crash and big health issues. Thankfully, he maintains Stu's snarky persona even when he's conveying his faith. His scenes with Gibson have a great crackle to them, Weaver adds some fire of her own, and Ruiz is fine in an underwritten role. McDowell adds some imperious glee as a monsignor who always seems to be in Stu's way.

Rather than trying for earthy authenticity, Ross encourages the actors to dig into the emotions in every single scene. This leaves the movie feeling a bit soapy, depicting situations as movie set-ups rather than real-life encounters. This story is genuinely powerful, and it's strongly boosted by Wahlberg's passion and Gibson's charisma. Stu's redemptive journey is messy and engaging, and it has a lot to say about the need for forgiveness at various levels of society. And also how the church sometimes gets that wrong.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.Apr.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall