Taking a break from the high-octane action of Uncharted and Infinite, and just before working on the upcoming adventure film Arthur The King, Mark Wahlberg takes a more nuanced and down-to-earth approach to his passion project, Father Stu. Following the real-life man Stuart Long who transformed from a professional boxer to a priest, this film hits all the emotional notes of a melodramatic biopic of a remarkable journey of one guy who wanted to better himself and those around him. Despite some moments of cheese and a few sidelined tangents that go nowhere, Father Stu succeeds in its fantastic performances from Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, and Jacki Weaver, as they tell a phenomenal story of one person's rise to glory.
With a mix of comedy and drama, Father Stu follows the later life of one Stuart Long who grew up in a broken household with an abusive father (Gibson) and a mother (Weaver) who did the best she could with the hand that she was dealt. Not going to amount to much, Stuart took up fighting that led to boxing and life in and out behind bars. After a bad car accident, Stuart became interested in the seminary and the ways of a higher power. He no longer wanted to live for just himself, but rather to become a better person and help everyone around him become better people. Unfortunately, Stuart was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease similar to ALS that severely impaired his motor functions. But that didn't stop Stuart from helping others, which is what the film aims to showcase.
Taking a bit of liberty here and there with the true story, Father Stu focuses on Stuart and his relationship with his abusive father and how through compassion, patience, love, and religion, the impossible can seem possible. Newcomer director Rosalind Ross takes her own script on the subject and allows for some tense situations within the Long family, but also delivers some comedic moments, specifically with Gibson's character who seems to be having a great time on screen cursing and being a giant jackass. Additionally, Wahlberg's first reason for switching over to the godly realm in the film is over a woman, which is fun to see the chase and the constant rejection that ensues. But behind all that humorous setting is a deeper meaning and tone, which both Ross and Wahlberg convey to a perfect tee.
The film does suffer from tangent storylines that could have been left on the cutting room floor, making its two-hour run time seem more tedious than it needs to be, especially in its mid-section where it tries to go into other facets of Stu's life that is not necessarily needed for this particular movie. But more often than not, Wahlberg's performance is what takes everyone through this journey at a quick pace. Wahlberg has worked with the greatest of all-time directors and has taken notes throughout his career.
When he is not dodging bullets or talking to a teddy bear, Wahlberg is a phenomenally nuanced actor, who is capable of delivering the finest of performances, which he does here in Father Stu. His deep emotional turns within this real-life man seem natural and bittersweet given the circumstances, even going so far as to mimic the physical body language of the guy. Jacki Weaver is simply a joy on screen and it wouldn't surprise anyone if she received an award later down the road for this role.
Father Stu isn't the most fluid or fun biopic, but it does tell a courageous and transforming story of a real guy who just wanted to better himself and the world around him, despite all the tragic obstacles that came his way. This faith-based film doesn't hit heavy on the preaching at all but instead promotes faith of any kind for a better tomorrow, and Wahlberg acts the hell out of this role.