Wahlberg Leads Interesting But Insincere Faith

Wahlberg Leads Interesting But Insincere Faith

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Rosalind Ross, Father Stu sees an agnostic become a priest. The faith-based film comes just in time for Easter, but unlike many other films in the genre, Father Stu has put some effort into crafting its story. The film — produced by and starring Mark Wahlberg in the title role — is not the best out there, nor is it the most touching, well-paced, deep or thoughtfully executed story, but it does have its moments. Father Stu is based on the true story of Stuart Long (Wahlberg), a boxer who is forced to quit after suffering injuries his body could no longer tolerate. Stu’s got a lot of anger issues and struggles with being emotionally vulnerable, mostly due to the death of his brother at a young age and the divorce of his now-estranged parents (Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver), both of whom didn’t raise him to be religious. Lost, Stu moves to Los Angeles in an attempt to become an actor. He becomes infatuated with Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), a Catholic school teacher, and begins attending church. At first, it’s only to please her because it’s an important part of her life. But after a near-fatal motorcycle accident, Stu decides he wants to become a priest, to the shock of everyone.

Father Stu is an above average faith-based story. It has all the elements that would make it engaging and uplifting — a seemingly lost man who is rough around the edges looking inward and to God to find himself and his purpose. He faces quite a few obstacles along the way, things that are meant to make him stronger and to solidify his beliefs. To a certain extent, the film succeeds in its efforts because it puts in the work. Father Stu is a well-made film, though not necessarily a good one. However, it sets out what it accomplishes to do while understanding exactly what kind of film it is, which feels like a miracle unto itself. It’s not overly preachy or heartless, but what it does lack is genuine sincerity. The film also meanders, failing to properly build any real tension. Everything that happens to Father Stu happens far too quickly. By the time he becomes a changed man of God, shedding his old habits and attitudes (though not completely), it doesn’t feel entirely earned. There could have been more time spent on that aspect so as to more fully understand his actions; a vision of the Virgin Mary after his accident isn't going to cut it. That is a result of the pacing, with the film often lingering on aspects that aren’t pertinent to the story while glossing over the things that are. It’s also that Mark Wahlberg’s performance — as he transitions from playing the hot-tempered Stu to a kind-hearted priest — isn’t effective in conveying this change. He's good at playing the former, but not so much the latter.

The role requires a delicate balance, but the actor’s earnestness, present only on occasion, simply isn’t there. Jacki Weaver, as Father Stu’s always-worried mother, and Teresa Ruiz as his supportive, kind-hearted ex-fiancée are the true standouts here. They exude warmth and strength despite being pushed to the side so constantly. What’s perhaps most interesting about Father Stu is that it seemingly serves as an ill-conceived redemption story for Wahlberg, and Mel Gibson, who have both had their fair share of controversy over the years, and it doesn’t work in that respect. The film is all about second chances and, while it tries increasingly hard to be genuine about it, the overall story comes up short. Father Stu is infused with some comedy, jokes that are occasionally funny, and one or two heartfelt scenes that work in its favor. But such scenes of humor and warmth are typically undercut by other moments that are likely meant to inspire, but are either underwhelming or awkward. All that said, there are things to enjoy about Father Stu. It isn’t sincere or as inspiring as it believes itself to be, but it also understands what its aims are, and that self-awareness is worth noting.

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