There’s nothing that seems to bring out the worst in film reviewers than movies about faith; critics revere Scorsese, sure, but ask them to understand or sympathise with what someone else believes in, and they’re quick to sharpen their pencils with vitriol. So writer/director Rosalind Ross’s biopic about boxer-turned-priest Stuart Long was always cruising for a critical bruising; I’m going to rail against the prevailing wisdom and admit that I thought Father Stu the movie works pretty well. A quick check on Rotten Tomatoes reveals 94 percent audience approval, but just 44 percent from critics, and that tells its own story.
Mark Wahlberg, and his daily workout rituals, have been a regular source of merriment on this website; by his own admission, Wahlberg gets up in the morning four hours before he goes to bed, eats a dozen chicken burgers, spends three minutes reading scripts and chilling with his family, and plays a 20 minute round of golf before going back to bed, and then repeats this several times long before the rest of us have awakened. That begs the question of what Wahlberg is in training for, but Father Stu answers that question; the star was clearly committed to making a physical transformation that requires a bit of personal sacrifice. Stuart Long’s story is simple enough; a boxer plagued by injury, he moves to California, gets into a DUI that nearly kills him, and finds God as a result. Not only that, but this hard-swearing, hard-drinking guy decides to whole the whole nine yards and become a priest, only to discover that he’s got a potentially fatal muscle-wasting disease…
Father Stu has a limited set of characters to play with; Stu has a troubled relationship with his mother and father (Jackie Weaver and Mel Gibson, both good), but also finds personal redemption in the arms of his lover Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). Stu’s various misfortunes cause him to rage at God, but anger at a deity is the first part of admitting to God’s existence, and his conversion from sinner to near saint is well captured. Against the odds, Stu is ordained; it’s particularly nice to see the great Malcolm McDowell as the Monsignor who reluctantly agrees to help Stu on his spiritual, sometimes comic journey.
You’ll already know from the synopsis whether Father Stu will work for you, but if you are interested in a faith-based movie, Ross’s movie is better that critics say; for once, a film focuses on a character’s spiritual development, and Wahlberg’s commitment to telling Stu’s story seems genuine. I’ve written before about the ferocious levels of anti-religious sentiment which are the norm in the internet age; everyone is entitled to their own faith, and although Father Stu the movie leaves the rough edges of the central character intact, it’s also a powerful true story that’s brought to the big-screen in a way that might well inspire those who approach with an open mind.
Thanks to Sony Pictures UK for big screen access to this film. #FatherStuMovie is Exclusively At Cinemas May 13.