Father Stu – Film Review
by Frank L.
Director – Rosalind Ross
Writer – Rosalind Ross
Stars – Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Malcolm McDowell
This film is based on the life of one Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg). His father Bill (Mel Gibson) was an alcoholic and left the family home early. Stu became a partially successful amateur boxer who never made the big time, nor any money. Given some medical warnings about continuing, Stu then had an even more unlikely idea that, in his mid-thirties, he would become a movie star in Hollywood. He failed in this dream but in the process of attempting to do so, as the title implies, he became a priest. Wahlberg is a devout Roman Catholic and the story of Long appealed to him so much that he wanted to make a movie out of it but he was unable to get funding so he funded the movie himself. Gibson is also a devout Roman Catholic and director Rosalind Ross is his partner.
There is a great deal to cover in two hours. What the film concentrates on are the many difficulties which Stu (Mark Wahlberg) had to face in order for him to become a priest. They were manifold. However, in the film, he is never asked to be accountable for some of his own very questionable behaviour before deciding to become a priest. Such as the way he treats Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), the Mexican Sunday School teacher who he effectively stalks, and then dumps or in contrast his entitlement to beat up a guy in the film industry who seeks to proposition him!
Needless to say, there were difficulties with the church authorities and this aspect of the story is represented by Monsignor Kelly (Malcolm McDowell). There is also another seminarian who is so righteous that one suspects that he was not an individual in reality but an amalgam of several seminarians, created for the purpose of the film, to act as a contrast to the more gregarious Long who continues to face major human challenges notwithstanding his decision to become a priest.
The important familial role in Stu’s life is Kathleen Long (Jackie Weaver) who is a caring and concerned mother throughout the twists and turns of her not overly talented son’s career. She is the rock on whom Stu can rely throughout. Weaver gives an entirely convincing performance as this long-suffering woman.
Undoubtedly a story from being a mid-thirties, washed-up boxer to becoming a priest is an unusual trajectory. Apparently, Stu experienced a moment of conversion which one must accept as God moves in mysterious ways.
Wahlberg gives a fine acting performance as a hard-living, 100% heterosexual male even if at the beginning of the film it was far from easy to understand what was being said by him and his boxing world coterie. Astonishingly he undertook a vast eating campaign so as to become flabby in order to represent Father Stu’s body as it failed him – undoubtedly an admirable commitment to his craft. However, the performance which sticks is that of Jackie Weaver’s supporting role as Stu’s concerned, slightly bewildered mother Kathleen.
The story of Father Stuart Long is a remarkable one. The film however fails to draw the disparate elements together to make a credible whole. The film is like a curate’s egg – good in parts.