4.5 out of 5 stars
Religious centered movies are really hit or miss with me. There are some out there that are excellent. But religious movies often strike me as artificial. Collectively, I think relatability is a key element to a good religion-based film.
The new biographical movie “Father Stu,” released April 15 (just in time for Easter) and starring Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson, is a religious film that relies purely on true events.
The movie tells the true life story of boxer Stuart Long, who’s certainly not religious, but still finds his way into the Catholic priesthood.
Initially, he has a bitter relationship with his father, Bill (Mel Gibson), drinks heavily and decides to pursue an acting career in Hollywood.
He leaves Seattle for California, and works as a butcher in a grocery store while waiting for an acting opportunity to cross his path.
A customer named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) catches his eye. Stu tries to make an impression with her. He’s told where she goes to church, so he tries to meet her there.
As they soon develop a relationship, she tells Stu the church’s position on Catholics dating non-Catholics. So, Stu, who’s an atheist, decides to study the Catholic faith and is soon baptized into the Church.
As he consistently practices the faith, Stu eventually comes to the belief that God is calling him to be a priest. This, of course, is the last thing Carmen and his parents expected of Stu. They think he’s being overzealous.
While in the seminary, he’s diagnosed with an inflammatory muscle disease called inclusion body myositis. It renders Stu incapable of standing without the aid of crutches and will lead to more severe symptoms later in his life.
The diocese doubts that Stu will be able to perform his priestly functions, and consider him ineligible for ordination. But Stu is firm in his belief that setback and suffering doesn’t mean all is lost.
What distinguishes this movie from other faith-based films is its realism. The movie doesn’t attempt to be overly pious. It tells the story as it is, letting the events of Stu’s life, and the words he spoke, inspire the audience and give them things to consider.
He swore quite a bit. He got into fights outside of the boxing ring. His drinking led to bad situations. And then he found his way to the priesthood. The movie portrays pretty much what really happened. It’s a truly believable and realistic depiction of a rags to spiritual riches story.
In one scene, Father Stu says, “We shouldn’t pray for an easy life but the strength to endure a difficult one.”
That’s the point of the entire story. And it’s not a common one as many other religious movies depict the importance and necessity of prayer as a means to seek divine providence to overcome a difficult problem, or to win the big football game. The story of “Father Stu” takes prayer in a direction not often seen in movies – to live through suffering.
Stu remains imperfect until the end, but he doesn’t hold back his thoughts. He struggles, even in his prayers, wanting to blurt out profanity (old habits die hard) from his frustrations, and then apologizing when he does. I’ve never seen an anguishing prayer so realistically portrayed before.
This is due to Mark Wahlberg’s masterful performance. I think this movie made me a fan of Wahlberg. I’ve never disliked him in any of the movies I’ve seen him in. He was just another actor to me. His performance and transformation here is absolutely impressive.
It’s nice to see something come out of Hollywood amidst the stale, repetitious and often morally lacking films that are produced repeatedly. It seems movies such as “Father Stu” are what go against the tide these days.
Conversions aren’t always a walk along a rose covered path. Quite often, it’s a trek full of tears and frustration. Somehow, happiness still comes through.
“Father Stu” captures that inner turmoil and anguish, along with the ambition and joy that generally comes about with a religious conversion. It’s fresh for a religious movie even though films depicting conversions are nothing new. This movie is one that deserved to be made.
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