Mark Wahlberg gained 14kg for the role and spent millions of his own money to fund it, but was the effort worth it? No.
There comes a point, about two-thirds into Father Stu’s run, where you wonder why this particular story was chosen for a biopic.
Because either the filmmakers made the story of Stuart Long, the man whose life is immortalized on screen, boring and uninteresting, or the story was never compelling enough to begin with.
Why did Mark Wahlberg choose to make this project his passion, pouring millions of his money into it? Is it because the deeply Catholic Wahlberg told the story of a reformed boxer who became a priest after a near-death experience only to be diagnosed with a degenerative disease?
On the surface, it ticks a lot of boxes for a drama, with its themes of redemption, suffering and acceptance, but the execution has all the finesse of a midday movie with a cast of former soap opera stars.
Father Stu is so lifeless that saccharin would have been an improvement.
The key to the disappointments is that Wahlberg is terribly miscast in the role. Although he’s compelling as a scrappy, crass boxer and a man of faith who sincerely springs from the scriptures, you never shake the impression that Wahlberg is playing Wahlberg. He doesn’t have the seriousness needed for the role.
At no point do you feel like you glean any insights or understanding from Stuart Long other than the same biographical details on his Wikipedia page.
Stuart (Wahlberg) is a failed amateur boxer pushing for retirement. Unable to use his fists to make a living, Stu decides to try his hand at acting and moves to California. The highlight of his career ends up being an infomercial for a miracle mop.
While working in a supermarket, he pursues a woman, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), who belongs to the local Catholic parish. Carmen won’t agree to be with a man outside of her faith, so Stuart agrees to begin the baptism process.
It’s the turnaround he needed after a dramatic life involving bar fights and run-ins with the police.
His relationship with his parents Kathleen (Jacki Weaver) and Bill (Mel Gibson) has been strained after an earlier family tragedy, and they are both unbelievers and struggle to understand their son’s new leaf.
Father Stu, written and directed by first-timer Rosalind Ross, goes through the motions of character conversion, but it’s shallow beats and it often feels jittery, like it’s missing connective tissue. Little attention is paid to these transitional moments in character development.
It is possible that a faith-based audience will find more in Father Stu than a mainstream audience, able to connect with it on a different level than a regular moviegoer whose interest has been piqued by a bus poster featuring Wahlberg’s face.
There have always been films made specifically for religious audiences, they rarely feature recognizable actors or turn into wide release. When they do, it’s not unreasonable for a mainstream audience to expect there to be more to support the film.
Father Stu is in theaters from Thursday, May 12