Wahlberg pugnaciously committed to subversive, R-rated clergy tale 'Father Stu'

  • Champion screw-up Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) considers becoming a priest after a near-fatal motorcycle crash in the fact-based drama "Father Stu."

    Champion screw-up Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) considers becoming a priest after a near-fatal motorcycle crash in the fact-based drama "Father Stu." Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

 
 
Updated 4/12/2022 3:53 PM

"Father Stu" - ★ ★ ★

Just in time for the Good Friday/Easter weekend, Rosalind Ross' subversive, R-rated clergy tale "Father Stu" becomes leader of the pack for Christian faith movies with its bitey dialogue, provocative premise and pugnaciously committed performance by Mark Wahlberg as a broken man on a quest for redemption.

 

This fact-based story follows the standard "I once was lost, but now am found" formula common to many Christian faith-based movies, but unlike those -- mostly low-budget, family-friendly productions with sledgehammer themes bludgeoning the drama -- "Father Stu" employs an A-list cast to present a mature and remarkably affecting testimonial to indomitable faith.

We first meet Stu Long (Wahlberg) as an angry young boxer and a self-destructive, alcohol-swilling, drug-ingesting, parent-hating, womanizing bar brawler who rides a motorcycle.

He barely has a relationship with his mom, Kathleen (Jacki Weaver), resigned to a life of disappointment with her hopeless, directionless offspring.

Stu openly resents, if not hates, his spiteful failure of a father, Bill (Mel Gibson, bitterly channeling his well-documented dark side for a good purpose here).

Stu (Mark Wahlberg) leaves his bitter father (Mel Gibson), who mocks his plans to become a priest in "Father Stu."
Stu (Mark Wahlberg) leaves his bitter father (Mel Gibson), who mocks his plans to become a priest in "Father Stu." - Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
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When a young Catholic teacher named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) catches Stu's constantly roving eye, his life takes a dramatic turn. But he doesn't realize it until his motorcycle plows into a car, nearly killing him.

We don't exactly know what prompts Stu's spiritual epiphany in the hospital. Near-death experiences can be funny like that.

He bursts into the room to tell his mom the good news.

"I'm gonna be a priest!" he says.

"For Halloween?" Mom replies.

First-time director Rosalind Ross ramps up Stu's unfailingly optimistic Catholic Ted Lasso with her rich, punchy screenplay, a perfectly measured mix of hope and tragedy as the titular character's faith gets severely tested by an incurable progressive muscle disorder.

When their son Stu (Mark Wahlberg) comes down with a progressive muscle disorder, Kathleen (Jacki Weaver) and Bill (Mel Gibson) come to his aid in "Father Stu."
When their son Stu (Mark Wahlberg) comes down with a progressive muscle disorder, Kathleen (Jacki Weaver) and Bill (Mel Gibson) come to his aid in "Father Stu." - Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ross dresses up the dialogue with appropriately realistic curse words, smart and subtle foreshadowing, plus a sly reference to Wahlberg's porn star role in "Boogie Nights."

But her boldest scene poses the subversive question: Who makes a better priest?

In one scene, two newly minted priests sit before a group of male prisoners. One young idealistic priest struggles to connect with them. The other priest, Stu, practically drills a hole into their heads, then bluntly expresses their disappointments, resentments and worries over the fidelity of the women they left behind. Stu knows them. He is them.

So, who might make the better priest? Pat Boone or Johnny Cash?

The answer's on the soundtrack.

• • •

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz

Directed by: Rosalind Ross

Other: A Sony Pictures release. In theaters. Rated R for language. 124 minutes

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