Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.
Release Date: April 13th, 2022 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Rosalind Ross Actors: Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz, Aaron Moten, Cody Fern, Malcolm McDowell
n Montana’s Lewis & Clark County, young Stuart Long receives only sarcastic quips from his unsupportive father Bill (Mel Gibson). This leads to an abandonment of his hopes to become the next Elvis, instead resorting to using his physical strengths to pummel opponents in the ring. But even a career as a pugilist is cut short by medical complications – not that he could have progressed very far after aging out of the range that pros usually take advantage of. “Isn’t it a little late to try that?” inquires Stu’s mother (Jacki Weaver), recalling not only professional boxing, but also his subsequent aspirations to become a movie star, which drives adult Stu (Mark Wahlberg) to Hollywood, where he aims to reject any hint of a blue collar career.
“I was born to perform!” He’s ambitious, charismatic, and personable, though these traits only get him into a commercial and behind the fresh poultry counter at a grocery store. When he spies an attractive customer (Teresa Ruiz), Stu pursues yet another avenue, this time landing him in a Catholic church, where his flirtation and seduction tactics aren’t nearly as effective. It’s here that the film perfects its brand of humor, which relies heavily on Long’s crassness and unpolished verbiage to contrast his newfound ecclesiastical surroundings, as well as to coincide with Bill’s distinct unpleasantness and atheism. Strangely, however, it doesn’t go far enough with those contrasts, despite a light hint of “Midnight Cowboy” when Stu confidently strolls into Hollywood, unprepared for the sleaze. Stu deals with a few DUI incidents, but he’s far from the seemingly irredeemable heinousness of a murderer; when he swears off booze and other sins to entertain the notion of becoming a priest, it’s not the tremendous sacrifice and considerable about-face that one assumes would be required for a big-screen adaptation. “I’m turning my life around.”
It’s based on the real Father Stuart Long, with the standard theatrical embellishments (and concepts of suffering to test faith), but none are significant enough to give this picture the profound flavor of “The Song of Bernadette,” or “The Robe,” or “A Man for All Seasons” (or even “My Left Foot” or “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a la the biblical Book of Job). Its best vibes actually channel those of the comedies “Almost an Angel” or perhaps “Sister Act,” placing foulmouthed anecdotes and tough-guy attitudes against the properness of monsignors and cassocks. Correspondingly, the idea of fraudsters insinuating themselves into the routines of the church lends to a much-anticipated course of a weighty personal revelation and genuine transformation. This relates to Wahlberg’s own highly-publicized transformation as well – a notable break from his famed fitness regimen that sees him packing on quite a few pounds. But the bulk of the film is a rather typical tale of bad decisions resulting in a major change in direction for a wayward soul, meandering for some time on little wisdoms before revealing the one aspect of Stu’s path that is positively inspiring (a health complication that allows Wahlberg to give it his all, pleading in desperation in a couple of astoundingly heartrending moments).
“You’ve had some nutty ideas before…” Scenes of repetitive mistakes and unfortunate circumstances are translated into a religious calling and a purposeful plan by the almighty omnipotent, which is not exactly original stuff – especially considering a near-death experience that will have nonbelievers wondering about the implications. “Father Stu” isn’t a larger-than-life premise, failing to be as emotionally engaging as it should be, chiefly due to the fact that it focuses primarily on biographical episodes as opposed to specific people the priest helped – such as the prisoners or other disgraced citizenry with whom he has a unique communicative ability. Much of the film is small and undramatic, dwelling on tiresome rites and the kinds of subject matter that will attract very specific viewers already attuned to these precise themes, somewhat tragically discarding a potential love story that could have imparted greater universality. It may possess an admirable message and decent performances, but the pacing and plotting regularly teeter on tedium.
– Mike Massie