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Review: Father Stu (2022)

Father Stu (2022)

Directed by: Rosalind Ross

Premise: Based on true events. A former boxer (Mark Wahlberg) joins the Catholic Church and later decides to become a priest. His salt of the earth ways conflict with the sensibilities of others in the church.

What Works: Father Stu features one of Mark Wahlberg’s best performances. Wahlberg has a talent for playing intense but earnest blue-collar characters as seen in Boogie Nights, The Fighter, and Pain & Gain. More recently Wahlberg has been supplementing his base of violent street films with more family friendly fare such as Daddy’s Home, Instant Family, and Joe Bell. Father Stu is an R-rated movie, due to its language, but it is (for lack of a better word) a conservative film about a man finding a religious path. The role suits Wahlberg well. He commits to the part with his characteristic energy but Stu is a flawed man trying to do good and Wahlberg conveys that quality effectively. The appeal of this character is his outsider status; Stu does not come from a stereotypically priestly background and his streetwise manner contrasts with the rigidity and solemness of Catholicism. This story admirably brings real-world grit to religious and spiritual pursuits and Stu’s story acts out some larger questions about reconciling a merciful god with the suffering in the world. The movie also has some notable supporting performances by Mel Gibson and Jackie Weaver as Stu’s parents. They don’t understand their son’s choices but they are moved by his struggles. The filmmakers and the actors do not overplay the sentimentality of the parental stories and their transformation comes across organic.

What Doesn’t: Father Stu entertains broad religious and spiritual themes but like a lot of contemporary religious pictures, the filmmakers are mostly content to deal with those issues superficially. Stu comes up with justifications and understandings of what’s happening in a way that is sometimes a little too pat. As a guy from an uneducated and non-religious background, he might have a different point of view on tough questions of virtue and suffering but neither he nor the filmmakers come up with answers that are interesting or challenging. But more importantly, the film never achieves moments of spiritual transcendence. The plotting takes some severe turns. This gives Father Stu the unpredictability of life but it also makes the film episodic and ideas and storylines are left incomplete. That’s most evident in the love story. Stu first enters the church in pursuit of a woman (Teresa Ruiz). This character hangs on throughout the movie but she is never more than a love interest. She doesn’t have a life of her own outside the church. Other side characters are similarly underdeveloped.

Disc extras: Deleted scenes and a featurette.

Bottom Line: Father Stu is well intentioned and nice enough. It doesn’t really grapple with its subject matter in a deep or meaningful way but the film succeeds as an entertaining lightweight spiritual film.

Episode: #919 (September 25, 2022)