FATHER STU (NETFLIX) (2022)
SYNOPSIS: Based on a true story, Father Stu is an unflinchingly honest, funny and ultimately uplifting drama about a lost soul who finds his purpose in a most unexpected place. When an injury ends his amateur boxing career, Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) moves to L.A. dreaming of stardom. While scraping by as a supermarket clerk, he meets Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), a Catholic Sunday school teacher who seems immune to his bad-boy charm. Determined to win her over, the longtime agnostic starts going to church to impress her. But surviving a terrible motorcycle accident leaves him wondering if he can use his second chance to help others find their way, leading to the surprising realization that he is meant to be a Catholic priest. Despite a devastating health crisis and the skepticism of Church officials and his estranged parents (Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver), Stu pursues his vocation with courage and compassion, inspiring not only those closest to him but countless others along the way.
At one point in the movie, Jacki Weaver’s character suggests her son, Stu (played by Mark Wahlberg) to find work on an oil rig and later on, asking if he is going to be starring in a porno. In reality, Wahlberg has starred as an oil rig technician in Deepwater Horizon and a porn star in Boogie Nights.
The man indeed has come a long way. And in Father Stu, the prolific actor and producer stars as the late Stuart Long, a boxer-turned-priest in this genuinely entertaining biography drama about religion and redemption.
Long, an amateur boxer for most of his life decides to move from Montana to LA to pursue his dream of being an actor. But shortly after, Long falls for a Hispanic church-going girl, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) and gets himself baptised. After surviving a near-death bike accident where the once atheist Long experienced a religious awakening of sort, decides to enrol himself to be a priest.
Like it or not, the role of Stuart Long seems tailored made for Mark Wahlberg. As the foul-mouthed, uncouth Long, Wahlberg is at his acting best. At times, it might seem unbelievable or preposterous. Who is that mysterious man who sips water at a bar that told him not to ride? Is he God’s messenger? We are not going to judge it further but at the very least, Wahlberg is not wearing a suit and playing a stiff professor.
For a faith-based drama, there’s an equal amount of coarse language and discussion on God’s grace. Some of the exchanges are both humorous and well, engaging. There are no prolonged dreary talk about religion merely honest, inspirational words coming out from Wahlberg’s character because he sincerely believed God made him a better person in the end. Long’s eventual battle with inclusion body myositis (a form of muscle disorder) makes this flick even more inspiring than it should be.
Australian actress Jacki Weaver adds much weight and clout to the role of Long’s mother and real-life troubled actor Mel Gibson plays his estranged dad. It’s up to your own debate whether there is a deeper meaning in casting Gibson for the role consider his character is fighting his own demon after losing his younger boy at the age of six. Gibson, once an acclaimed director and actor of course is fighting a different form of demon for years though we should not use it to judge his brilliant presence here.
A spiritual story with a classic redemption arc might not appeal to the crowds but Father Stu works tremendously well due to Wahlberg’s charismatic performance and the obvious wide appeal of the fact that the story is based on the life of an inspiring real Father.
Review by Linus Tee