When I first saw Father Stu being advertised, I was interested from the boxing narrative presented in the show but was skeptical about who made the movie and how the religious aspect would be interwoven in it. While I am religious, I will be the first to admit that Christian movies are trash for the most part. They tend to all be the same and all quite cliche. My wife wanted to see this movie herself so I figured why not.
Upon looking at the reviews before going watching the fight over some chips and queso at our local Mexican restaurant, I wasn’t excited to see the movie. After watching it, it’s apparent that the movie was bombed for Mel Gibson’s involvement. Getting ahead of all of those comments, things that Mel Gibson has said in the past are not good. It’s been insensitive and overall not cool. That said, I’m not taking into consideration his comments which have nothing to do with the movie. Let’s begin.
Based on a true story
Father Stu tells the story of Stuart Long, a boxer turned Catholic priest. With the titular character being played by Mark Wahlberg, the film was financed by Wahlberg after several studios turned him down. But he pushed on to get the film made.
As for the movie, Father Stu tells Long’s story and how, despite his trials and debilitating diagnosis of inclusion body myositis, which is a disease similar to Lou Gehrig disease in which the affected loses the ability to control their body, has Father Stu showing unwavering faith.
Long is an amateur boxer of which I couldn’t find any records of on Boxrec.com or tapology.com, two database sites for boxing. That’s not to say he never boxed. Amateur records are notoriously hard to verify and often these sites will not include them without evidence of the fights via video or official promotional results. That said, Long’s 10-2 record mentioned in the movie could not be corroborated.
The Good of Father Stu
Father Stu has many redeemable qualities about it, even if you’re not religious. This movie, much like many of the religious movies that Mel Gibson is involved with, is rough around the edges. The language is definitely R-rated. If you are going to see this movie, don’t expect your local youth group to be in attendance.
Mark Wahlberg does a good job coming off charismatic and cringey at the same time. Long always has a euphemism to come back with after being told no for something he’s set his mind to. Wahlberg also shows up in incredible shape for the boxing portion at the beginning of the movie. As Stuart Long’s medical condition gets worse, Wahlberg gets fat. The movie, which takes a humorous approach to Wahlberg’s physique, has Long getting baptized and he takes his shirt off in the church not to get wet. The women end up fanning themselves off at the sight of a shirtless boxer. But this scene serves a purpose to bring attention to just how far Long’s health deteriorates as his disease progresses. Later in the movie, we see Wahlberg shirtless once again. But this time he’s terrible shape, can’t stand and this in comparison to the baptism scene makes you feel bad for Long and how much his body has betrayed him.
Father Stu also doesn’t shy away from the tough topics traditionally seen in Christian movies. While The Last Champion played it safe on the rough side of the movie, Father Stu goes in on the language, sex, and the complexities of religion. But Stuart Long saying “shit” while playing basketball with the other priest in training at the seminary adds to the complexity of the character and shows that, while Father Stu was a great priest and many looked up to him, he wasn’t perfect. It was that imperfection that made Wahlberg’s Long a more interesting character. He goes to the prison and gets on their level, curses with them, and then preaches to them, which made the real Stuart Long a different kind of priest.
All in all, Mark Wahlberg’s character really does show the mentality of a lot of fighters can’t quit attitude. Wahlberg goes through the movie reviewing to accept no, be it from Teresa Ruiz as Carmen, not being accepted by the Catholic Church into seminary, or his disease holding him back. But, the movie does a good job showing that the lessons learned in boxing to never quit followed Long throughout his entire life.
Where the movie struggles
While I am more happy with Father Stu then not, there are some things that needed major changing for the movie. First off, as a boxing fan and that being being why I was looking forward to the movie most, the boxing was pretty much done by the first 20 minutes of the movie passing by. There are name drops of boxing pop culture, like Aaron Moten’s character telling Wahlberg the only thing he and Muhammad Ali had in common was they would “both be in a wheelchair” which showed the type of deprecating relationship the two had. I wish we could have seen more flashbacks of Long boxing, but that’s the fan of boxing in me.
The movie also felt unreasonably long. I was halfway through the movie looking at my watch thinking “we’ve got to be almost wrapping this up.” But this is mainly due to the way the film took place. Pre-disease and post-disease Long seemed like two separate movies. You can attribute that to Rosalind Ross who’s first movie to have a poster on IMDB is actually Father Stu.
Finally, the relationship of Stu’s parents was very stereotypical and you could see the reconciliation coming from a mile away. While this may have been what happened in real life, the director’s choices could have made this more unique and interesting.
Father Stu Rating: 5/10
For Father Stu, I’m giving it a five out of ten. Keep in mind, I rate movies on a true 10 point scale and 5 is middle of the road average. Where Father Stu shines is all in Wahlberg and Mel Gibson and their dynamic together. There are plenty of moments where you’ll be laughing in the movie and it’s story is genuinely interesting. Seeing a guy from a rough neighborhood go to a member of the Catholic Church and ultimately a priest is an odd transition.
But the story is pretty one dimensional as written. While Wahlberg’s character is fun and interesting, the story behind him is cut and dry, which is how most things in real life are. But just because something happened some way in real life doesn’t mean it will translate well on the big screen and it is the reason Hollywood often takes their own liberties with movies. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.
Overall, if you’re a Christian, you’ll love Father Stu. The boxing isn’t the main story, it’s the religion and story of Stuart Long that is the focus of the film. It’s not for kids. Much like The Passion of the Christ, Father Stu doesn’t hold back on what really happened. Give it a shot, the critics, like always, don’t know what they’re talking about.