Life beats us down, but getting back up can be harder than the hits. Father Stu shows how a change in perspective can give us our second wind…
Stuart Long (Wahlberg) is a past-his-prime, alcoholic, bar-room brawler and boxer. That is, until Stu discovers that he suffers from health problems which will kill him if he continues to box. So Stuart upends his life and moves to L.A, hoping to become an actor. And, through a storm of life-changing events, Stuart eventually decides he wants to become a priest. But can this rough-around-the-edges fighter make it as a man of faith?
Maybe I should have mentioned this sooner, but Father Stu is a biopic. That, to me, feels refreshing because Hollywood mostly makes these things about famous actors and musicians. Other people accomplished things worth sharing too! And I believe Stuart Long’s story is worthy of a film. But we’re here to determine how well that film was executed, so let’s get into it:
In short, Father Stu was… OK. They had me invested in the first half! Stuart faced a considerable number of hurdles in his life. And the placement of said hurdles was well-spread throughout the run-time– enough for me to process each challenge before another appeared. My brain thought to itself over and over: “Oh man, that’s sad… Wait, what? Something even worse happened to him?!”
And that’s a marker of decent screen-writing. Sporadic twists throughout the story are meant to keep you surprised and anticipating the next plot points. That much Father Stu does well.
But this film dropped the ball on the character of Stuart Long himself. The deeper the story delved into his exploration of faith, the more it lost me. I’m admittedly not a spiritual person, so the emphasis on religious faith did not resonate with me. Though that’s more of a me problem, and not the real issue I had as a critic.
No, my biggest problem is that, Stuart’s character arc all but stops the moment he decides to pursue priesthood. He suddenly became this upstanding citizen who had a comparatively bad temper, but was somehow more enlightened than all his friends and family. And I wouldn’t be so put off by this fact had his arc completed at the movie’s end. But Stu becomes so pious maybe 2/3 into the story!
I feel like Bill Long (Mel Gibson)– Stuart’s father– was more the protagonist in the film’s back half. Which is a weird choice for the story. I mean, it’s called Father Stu, not Father Stu’s Father. Bill Long obviously played an important role in Stu’s life. And the character was deserving of an arc in the story. It’s just baffling to me why his story took precedence in the end.
And maybe you could argue that Bill had more growing to do by that point in the movie. But I’d argue back and say that it doesn’t matter. Stu should have remained the focus all the way through, with anyone else’s stories serving to enhance his own.
This all reminds me of another complaint I had: the film’s pacing is weird. It feels way longer than it actually is. And I blame the pacing rather than the content because I believe most of the scenes were relevant to the story.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that most of the film’s scenes were extremely short, and many of them were broken up with montages. Maybe the poor pacing was caused by some kind of mental trick, like: because Father Stu‘s sequences were so fast-paced, that meant there were a lot of scenes in the film and, because there were so many scenes, it felt as if Father Stu ran longer than its actual run-time.
Father Stu‘s most hard-hitting commentary critiques the Catholic Church’s hypocrisies. They claim to believe in redemption, and advocate for the good in people’s spirits, yet they balk at the idea of giving a former “criminal” priesthood. Not to say the film is particularly critical of the Catholic Church (afterall, the main character still wishes to join the organization), but it brought up some interesting points about their moral compass.
Mark Wahlberg is great in Father Stu! In fact, this might be the best I’ve ever seen him in a movie! No offense to the guy, but he doesn’t normally show off this much acting range. I read he was adamant to adapt this story, and his passion shines through in his work. He even gained weight for some scenes later in the film, which was impressive (if only for the speed with which he put it on and took it off). I don’t like when actors treat their bodies with such extremes but I respect their dedication.
Stuart Long’s character is cocky, yet charming; pushy, yet endearing; short-tempered, but patient. The guy can never seem to catch a break. But I admired how well he handled his hardships. Love, ambition, and sheer determination carried him through situations which would have destroyed other spirits. As I said up top: this guy does seem like he deserved a biopic. There’s definitely good lessons to take away from his story. Mostly that persistence pays off.
Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) is Father Stu‘s main love interest. Ruiz does her best with what material she’s given. She is good in the role. But the character lacked depth. Religion (and later Stu) appeared to be all that mattered to Carmen. There’s only one or two scenes where I saw any other aspects of her personality.
Mel Gibson turned in a decent performance as Bill Long. He played the world-weary jerk in such a way that he gained more of my pity than abhorrence. Not to say he was a great person, but he wasn’t a villain either. Bill is a troubled, cynical man who doesn’t mind how his words affect his family. And he’s an example of what a faithless person can become when beset by tragedy.
Father Stu isn’t one of those films which act like people without faith are all bad though. Stu’s mother, Kathleen (Jacki Weaver) is a non-believer as well, and she’s at least a tad sympathetic. She felt like a real, complex person. I thought Jacki Weaver played her fantastically! Her subtle encouragements and exasperation built a well-realized character. And she delivered most of the film’s best lines. She, more than anyone, consistently made me chuckle.
Oh yeah– another positive about Father Stu: it’s got a good sense of humor. This proved a pleasant surprise because I didn’t expect a film of this type to be so relatively funny. Religion is so often treated as serious business that it’s amusing to see a wannabe priest crack jokes and misbehave (in redeemable ways, of course).
Jacques Jouffret’s cinematography was safe. So was Rosalind Ross’ direction. Neither aspect of Father Stu proved offensive nor groundbreaking. Though I will say, this film loved its close-ups, and pan-ups from the feet. That’s not a critique per se. It’s just something I noticed about the film-making and couldn’t un-see…
Faith is a integral aspect of human existence. Could be faith in religion, love, or people in general, but most of us believe in something. Father Stu is a story about how belief, both in oneself and in a higher calling can turn us into better people and help our communities. It achieved what it set out to do! The story is, in fact inspiring. But the film’s pacing and the character arc of Stu himself (in the back half) brought this movie below its potential.
Father Stu might raise your spirits If You’re Bored.
What’s the best performance you’ve ever seen from Mark Wahlberg? What did you think of Father Stu? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,