Review: ‘Father Stu’

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Mark Wahlberg hinted that he may be considering retirement…. or at least shifting to more optimistic film roles. His latest film, Father Stu, certainly fits that criteria. Just a few steps removed from the type of faith-based films that have become the rage these days, the only thing that sets Father Stu apart is some pretty rowdy language that probably wouldn’t appease the Hillsong or Heaven Help Us crowds that usually fill the theaters for such a film.

But besides some salty exchanges between Wahlberg and his father (played to scowling perfection by Mel Gibson), Father Stu is a largely forgettable entry and one that I hope won’t be Wahlberg’s last foray in Hollywood.

Based on the real life story of Stuart Long, Wahlberg inhabits this man with his usual zeal and ragged charm. Starting out life as a boxer before giving that up to pursue acting in Los Angeles, Stuart is really a broken soul being rattled down the hill of life. Often drunk and reduced to asking every customer who comes into his portion of the supermarket if they work in film or television in the hopes of sharing a headshot, it’s obvious he’s fallen into the endless line of hopefuls lost in the quagmire of Hollywood’s backyard where his best role is surviving a horrific motorcycle crash.

However, things start to look promising when he meets and wins the affections of a strong-willed Catholic woman (Teresa Ruiz) and shifts paths to enter the seminary and become a priest. Yes, Stuart certainly is a man of many convictions who zigs and zags trying to find purpose, even though his agnostic mother (Jacki Weaver) and absent father (Gibson) do everything they can to try and keep their negative clutches over him.

Even more life altering events befall Stuart that I won’t give away, and Father Stu certainly covers alot of ground as a biopic. It’s messages of faith versus doubt become the central theme towards the end. And even if it doesn’t quite have the gusto to spiral into a Bad Lieutenant type of moral and spiritual battle, it’s whiffs of Christian ideals will certainly play well with types of audiences.

But in spite of its moral compass, Father Stu is a rather lifeless affair. The challenges presented to the real life Stuart Long are heartbreaking, but Wahlberg fails to sell just why all these people grew to appreciate this straight-talking priest. The film jumps from one life adventure to the next without allowing any real emotion to take hold, even less so when its Wahlberg and gruff, drunk father Gibson having an emotional battle of wills. We’ve seen this type of thing before, and done inherently better.

Directed and written by first timer Rosalind Ross, Father Stu has the best intentions of a faith-based adjacent effort, but it forgets that a soul is also needed to connect with an audience.

Father Stu opens wide in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Wednesday April 13th.