Hollywood brings together the fictitious father-son duo Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson for the first time since Daddy’s Home 2 in a biographical drama written and directed by Rosalind Ross. Based on the true story of Stuart Long, Father Stu stars Wahlberg as the eponymous boxer-turned-priest in a faith-based film he co-produced as well. Movies based around Christianity have a reputation for sacrificing quality for heavy-handed preaching. While there are elements of that here, this is a surprisingly well-crafted film that succeeds in telling an inspirational yet tragic story about a man who turns his life around.
The movie follows Stu, a young boxer who faces an injury that ends his career. The rest of the film surrounds Stu’s journey to find his purpose, going down paths where he wants to discover himself. He has a short-lived acting career that ends when his life goes awry, and he decides to become a priest. The setup for Stu’s decision is intriguing, as he’s put through the wringer at every possible turn, and this continues near the end of the second act. Stu’s perseverance through everything makes him a compelling protagonist as he handles his demons – including a strained relationship with his father.
Marky Mark has a distinct acting style. Recently he’s appeared in movies where he portrays his own recognizable persona, such as Spenser Confidential, Infinite, and this year’s Uncharted. However, you can always tell when Wahlberg puts effort into his performance, such as in Boogie Nights and The Departed. With his portrayal of Stu, Wahlberg may be trying his hardest to get the Oscar for a movie coming out many months before award season. This is a story where you can feel how genuinely invested Wahlberg is, and how much he wants to bring the true-life story to the eyes of more people.
Wahlberg gives his best performance in a decade as Stu, a role he fully dedicates himself to. During the first half, he does an excellent job of displaying both charm and turmoil. This is an unexpectedly humorous film, as Stu’s attitude leads to well-written comedic exchanges. But as a movie dealing with a man finding his second chance through a religious outlet, there are a lot of tragic scenes where we see Stu’s pain. Combined with the weight that Wahlberg gained for the role, this is the type of character that has everything an actor would dream of.
Gibson gives a superb supporting performance as Stu’s father, portraying an unlikeable character who begins to redeem himself as the film progresses. Jacki Weaver is also terrific as Stu’s mother, and the movie is well-paced. However, the film’s issues lie in the storytelling, which can feel bland and one-note. Ross’ feature directorial debut has moments of beauty, but his visual style and command of the dialogue are not strong enough to make the film reach its full potential.
Father Stu is a lot of things. Tragic, emotional, and humorous, it serves as a vehicle for two Hollywood stars with bigoted pasts to make a movie about second chances. This film is about faith and perseverance and what makes it stand out is Wahlberg, who gives an exceptional performance. By the end of the film, Wahlberg is portraying a different character than he was at the beginning, which is high praise for an actor who has not given a performance as remarkable as this in a long time. There is a solid father-son story at the heart of the film, and while the movie has a few too many storylines and takes a bit too long to find an ending, Ross ultimately succeeds in telling the story he wants to.
Mark Wahlberg’s latest is a movie you may want to catch in the theater. But if you’re pressed for time, you can always watch the trailer that gives away every single emotional beat of the story.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.