True story of boxer-turned priest both crude and uplifting

Mark Wahlberg in Father Stu (CNS/Sony Pictures)

Positive priest characters are certainly a rarity in contemporary films. Catholics will therefore welcome the uplifting fact-based biography Father Stu. Source: CNS.

While deeply moving, however, this dramatisation of the life of Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) is also hard-edged, particularly in terms of its dialogue.

Yet that’s part of the point. The movie is fundamentally about God’s ability to use seemingly unpromising people to do his will, in this case a once-boozy ex-boxer.

With the continuance of his somewhat successful career in the ring rendered too dangerous by a medical condition, Stuart moves to Los Angeles and tries to reinvent himself as a Hollywood star. Instead, he winds up as a directionless supermarket clerk.

But things begin to turn around for him when he falls at first sight for Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), a devout CCD teacher.

To please her, he goes through the motions of becoming Catholic, his conversion only becoming real after a near-death experience that also sets him on an unlikely path toward the priesthood, much to the consternation of his emotionally abusive father (Mel Gibson) and caring but unbelieving mother (Jacki Weaver).

A tribute to a future cleric who showed dogged determination and grit in the face of a series of apparently insurmountable obstacles, writer-director Rosalind Ross’s profile also showcases Stuart’s unconventional but effective approach to preaching the Gospel. And Wahlberg brings his striking, memorable character vividly to life, skilfully portraying Stuart’s odd combination of crudity and idealism.

Grown viewers will easily get past the earthy language with which the script is filled to appreciate the picture’s faith-inspiring core. But the persistent vulgarity, while justified in context, may prove more problematic for younger movie fans who might otherwise benefit from this portrait of a vocation.

Review by John Mulderig, CNS

Father Stu: Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Teresa Ruiz, Malcolm McDowell, Jacki Weaver, Cody Fern, Aaron Moten, Carlos Leal. Directed by Rosalind Ross. 124 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, coarse language and sexual references).

FULL REVIEW

Father Stu (CNS)

RELATED COVERAGE

Father Stu (Jesuit Media) 

Reigniting hope and faith as we emerge from COVID (The Catholic Weekly)

Saved by grace and grit (The Catholic Weekly)

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