Marking the directorial debut of Rosalind Moss, Father Stu takes us on the spiritual odyssey of foul-mouthed Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg), a professional boxer approaching the twilight of a career spent on the fringes of triumph, plagued by a difficult relationship with his beleaguered but well-meaning mother (Jacki Weaver) and alcoholic father (Mel Gibson), and racked with grief about the death of his brother as a child.
Upon being declared medically unfit to continue fighting, Stuart relocates to California after turning his attention to Hollywood, convinced that, while his destiny may not lie in the ring, he was nonetheless born to perform. While working behind a meat counter in the Golden State, Stuart begins pursuing Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), a volunteer at the local Catholic Parish, a plot strand which awkwardly rehashes the tired “hard-to-get” trope, treading over a well-beaten, rather problematic track. After converting to Catholicism in order to legitimise his relationship with Carmen in the eyes of her parents, Stuart almost dies in a motorcycle accident, altering his course unshakably towards priesthood.
Father Stu, while undoubtedly a unique and incredible true story, feels awfully familiar (some may even say predictable) when assessed next to cinema’s canon of biopics, right down to its jukebox soundtrack. There are also elements to Stuart’s character which feel insufficiently fleshed out in its effort to play to its religious audience (the film was released in time for Holy Week in the US). This substance to Stuart’s arc is teased at times, with him telling his disapproving father at one point, “I was looking for the approval of the wrong father”. But Moss’s script loses the strength of its convictions at these junctures, disappointingly taking Stuart’s motivations at face value.
Upon entering its final act, however, when Stuart, by this stage in the seminary, is diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, Father Stu does show its authenticity as a meditation on suffering, while also finding room to contemplate the nature of priesthood, (Stuart engages in an interesting philosophical defence of a character such as himself becoming a priest with Malcolm McDowell’s Monsignor Kelly) with the commitment and vulnerability of Wahlberg’s performance at the forefront.
Your verdict on the film may well depend on your allegiance, but its merits do ultimately glimmer through the heavy sheet of biopic formula, with the humanity of Father Stu able to transcend its hackneyed tropes.
Father Stu is released nationwide on 13th May 2022.
Watch the trailer for Father Stu here: