Lately, Mark Wahlberg has been playing some roles in underwhelming films. His films Joe Bell and Uncharted haven’t shown the standard of acting he’s capable of that he proved in such films as The Fighter, The Departed, and Boogie Nights. Father Stu is a return to form for Wahlberg, and it’s a pleasant surprise.
Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) is toiling away as an amateur boxer. When he realizes that his career isn’t going anywhere, he decides to pack everything up, despite his mother’s (Jacki Weaver) disagreement, and go to Hollywood to become an actor. He starts as a grocery clerk first, though. When he meets a beautiful woman at the store, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), his life changes for the better. He gives up drinking and carousing for a life of God and the church.
Rosalind Ross, the writer/director of this film, chose a straightforward way to tell this story. It is told in the typical three-act structure, but the three acts are dramatically different, and Mark Wahlberg transforms from one act to another. He goes from musclebound brute to a paraplegic in a wheelchair due to an incurable disease. Wahlberg goes to the next level to portray this man in all his various forms of being. That’s where Ross’s approach works perfectly.
Redemption stories can be somewhat overdone in Hollywood. There have been quite a few of them in the past. Wahlberg himself has been in a couple. He’s been in many true-to-life stories in his career as well. He takes what he’s gathered from his previous roles and applies it to Father Stu. These parts as a bartender turned football player in Invincible, an oil rig worker in Deepwater Horizon, and his Oscar-nominated role as “Irish” Mickey Ward opposite Christian Bale in The Fighter have all prepared him for what he needed to do in this film. He gives the best performance of his career in Father Stu since The Fighter.
I have had quite a journey with Catholicism in my life. I’ve been baptized and went to communion and church for years as a youth. I fell out of my faith for many years until I was at rock bottom in my life. A coincidence led me back to Jesus and the church until I was estranged from them again due to overzealous fanatics, which pushed me back away. I know the power of Jesus Christ/God — He has a strong pull. In the character’s situation in this film, his journey made a lot of sense to me. It was a perfect decision to embrace the church and God, given his life choices and what transpired in his life.
The film has a nice aesthetic that looks cool for the time this takes place. The clothes, cars, hairstyles, and the whole ’80s and ’90s vibe of this film look pretty cool. Ross also added a few other pretty good character actors, like Malcolm McDowell, in key roles in the movie. It also has one big action star, Mel Gibson, as Wahlberg’s character’s father, who may have had his own coming to Jesus moment in his own life.
Father Stu is quite the redemption tale. It’s a little too good to be true. If I hadn’t seen photos of the real man in the credits, I wouldn’t believe it myself. Wahlberg takes what he’s learned from other biopics and true-to-life characters he’s played and uses that experience to his advantage in this role. The three-act structure proved to be a very effective way to tell this story by Ross. She is an experienced writer, shown by how good the script was. Her first time in the director’s chair has been a success as far as I’m concerned. She made me feel and care about this character and film, and that’s all I ask for as a film fan. This is a solid biopic, and I look forward to seeing what she has in store next in her career.
Dan Skip Allen