Release Date – 13th May 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 4 minutes, Director – Rosalind Ross
Boxer Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) turns his life to priesthood, after initially attending church in the hope of attracting the attention of prominent church figure Carmen (Teresa Ruiz).
When you think of a standard faith-based film you perhaps wouldn’t commonly think of putting Mark Wahlberg in the leading role, it also feels as if the original screenplay for Father Stu hadn’t overly thought of that either. As we follow Wahlberg playing real life pastor Stuart Long from his days a boxer through to finding faith the film weaves in and out of general faith-based feature conventions, mixed with the stylings of something made for Wahlberg to lead, although still not completely the kind of film you may commonly associate with him. When giving up on boxing, Stuart moves to California in the hope of getting into acting. However, when working at the meat counter in a supermarket his eye is caught by Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). On tracking her down to her church Stu takes it upon himself to put on the guise of loose faith to get closer to the devout figure he’s become attracted to, but gradually finds his own faith.
It takes a bit of time for this latter segment to happen, and as Stu and Carmen grow somewhat closer, although her somewhat reluctantly, the former’s actions begin to feel quite creepy and uncomfortable with just how far he goes to try and get a date with the unknown woman. Perhaps this isn’t helped by the fact that the character himself appears to change every couple of scenes to a slightly different personality style depending on what the focus of that particular moment is. As well as trying to get into this relationship and growing a connection with God he’s charting the course of a rough relationship with his cynical father (Mel Gibson) and the threat of a growing illness, which plays more of a part in the latter half of the piece.
Throughout much of this course the film appears uneven and unsure as to what it actually wants to be. At times the question comes to mind as to whether certain moments are meant to be funny, if the film is trying to be a comedy – if so, then it’s very rarely successful in raising chuckles. Yet, as it travels along its path and becomes more direct in its style and nature, focusing more on the drama and connection to religion within Stu’s life, things clear up somewhat. Yes, there may be elements of convention introduced, but the film becomes more watchable and slightly engaging for this. Feeling calmer and less imbalanced in both focus and style. It feels more alike to the kind of film we may have got if Wahlberg wasn’t in the lead – although it should be said that he gives a good performance in the central role – and the general tone was more along the lines of your standard faith-based film.
The overall piece does have a conflicting vein throughout it, particularly when it comes to what it wants to be and who the primary target market is. While this doesn’t completely disrupt the film it certainly causes a few stumbles every now and then, particularly in the crossing between the first and second half – when we begin to get certain shots which look like they could be part of a parody Christian music video, Wahlberg kissing rosary beads in thankfulness. There are undeniably some questionable moments within the tonal shifts and conflictions throughout the film as it tries to appeal to various different groups at once, and this occasionally causes the finished piece to feel uneven. However, as the second half arrives and the focus becomes more direct things even out and while more in the line of convention they feel more watchable due to being less busy in trying to appeal to a wide range of people, perhaps much like Stu himself inevitably becomes.
While conflicted as to its tone and style, trying to appeal to various different audiences, like the central character, Father Stu eventually calms down and finds a more direct path within the slightly faith-based leanings creating a more watchable piece of work.