Father Stu

Director: Rosalind Ross
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Teresa Ruiz, Malcolm McDowell, Jacki Weaver, Cody Fern, Aaron Moten, Carlos Leal
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 124 mins. Reviewed in May 2022
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mature themes, violence, coarse language and sexual references

Stu Long is an amateur boxer in Montana. At a loss concerning a further career, he wanders to Los Angeles, wanting to be an actor, little success, attracted by a catechist of the local parish – leading to a transformation in his life.

FATHER STU, US, 2022. 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).

To get the best value out of watching this film, this reviewer suggests that, if you do not know anything about Father Stu, don’t look up information about him. Rather see the film and share the complexities of Stuart Long’s life and life choices from a fresh perspective. You will have mixed emotions along the way. But the ending will be credible. For many audiences, quite moving.

The film is based on a true story and, as with many of these films, there are photos and video clips of the central character during the final credits. And, given the story, it is helpful to see these clips and listen to Father Stu’s comments. The project has been a labour of love for Wahlberg who invested his money in the production. He has also invested a great deal of personal energy in his performance, probably the most demanding so far in his career. And he is persuasive in the different stages of Father Stu’s life. And, in support, he has Gibson (always a strong screen presence) playing Bill Long, a negligent father, a drinker, labourer, putting down his son. And there is Jacki Weaver, full of emotion, as Stu’s mother. Both parents are grieving the death of their other son, aged six.

And here is another caution, especially those who have high sensitivities concerning what classification authorities name ‘coarse language’. There is a lot. However, it reflects so much of everyday language these days, and is typical of the characters and their emotions (a priest in confession actually giving the advice to Stu to clean up his language). But, sharing Stu’s journey means accepting that this is his life, that this has been his language.

The early part of the film, as expected, especially for audiences who know that he began life as a boxer, focuses on his career, its coming to an end, his not having any particular post-boxing aims in his life, deciding to go from his home in Montana to Los Angeles for an acting career. It doesn’t work out that way at all. Although he does get to appear in a commercial for a mop to his mother’s dismay. He works in a shop selling meat, tries to charm customers, clashes with people, gets into fights… Not much prospect here.

Stu comes from a family with no religious background, and something of an antipathy towards a cruel God since the death of their son. And Stu doesn’t seem to have many clues about religion but is attracted by Carmen (Ruiz) who teaches children in the local parish. Stu sets his eye on her – and who would believe the road that this attraction would open up?

For a religious audience, this is where the film comes into its own. It is also interesting that a non-religious audience, who can readily identify with Stu and his life and stances, will be challenged about the mystery of God, the mystery of suffering, especially in the Catholic context.

There is an array of interesting characters, Monsignor Kelly, played by Malcolm McDowell (50 years after A Clockwork Orange), Moten as Ham, a sympathetic friend and seminarian, and Fern as a rather prim and pious seminarian (but the screenplay does not neglect some resolution for his character). Audiences will find the seminary sequences more than interesting.

So, Wahlberg, has to play boxer, cheeky young roustabout, attempted charmer, aggressive fighter, experience a deadly motorbike accident, and discover more meanings in his life than he would ever have dreamed.

This is a film that many audiences will have to be patient with, maybe not the kind of film they are expecting, but sharing the life of this ‘ordinary’ man and his struggle to find fulfilment in his life.


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