In Father Stu, Mark Wahlberg takes on the role of Stuart Long, a real-life boxer-turned-Catholic-priest. 

The faith-based drama outlines a story of self-destruction to redemption, and arrives in time for Easter Sunday.

Performances Elevate Father Stu

The most standout element of Father Stu is its performances, which both elevate the film and help gloss over (at times) some of its weaker components.

Wahlberg in particular shines as Stu Long. On paper, Stu’s character beats are sympathetic, if not actually likable; he’s persistent and self-assured to a fault. Wahlberg imbues Stu with just enough charm that you root for him, despite his flaws (and repeated poor decisions) at the start of the story.

His supporting co-stars, including Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz, and Mel Gibson, similarly bring strong work to their respective roles – despite not always having much to do on screen.

Jacki Weaver in Father Stu

A Narrow Focus Fails To Translate Greater Themes

That said, the performances of Wahlberg and his supporting cast members don’t fully make up for the fact that the focus of Father Stu can feel too myopic. It’s so tuned in to following Stu’s story directly, it fails to really flesh out its supporting characters as much as it could.

On a purely character level, this leaves something to be desired, particularly in the case of the arc for Stu’s parents. They spend most of the film separated, with vague allusions to why their relationship failed. Then, suddenly at the end of the film, they reconcile. It should be a heartwarming moment, but it comes off a bit shallow – we never truly learned enough about them to want them to come back together. (Or indeed, to think they wanted to come back together.)

Similarly, moments like this ring hollow from a thematic perspective. Ultimately, Father Stu is a story about faith, and how one man chose to spread that faith to others, supporting their journeys and leading them onto the path of God. It is a story about Stu’s personal journey of faith, of course. But his ultimate focus on entering the priesthood demonstrates how important he considers spreading that faith to others. It feels like Father Stu doesn’t quite do enough to show the impact Stu had on the lives of others; we only really get the impression of the ripple effect of his priesthood in the film’s final moments. 

Mark Wahlberg as Stuart Long in 'Father Stu'

The result is a film that feels more about how God can touch the life of one person, and less about how one person touched by God can touch the lives of others. I think either of these can be valid thematic approaches to faith-based films, but again, with Stu’s insistence on entering the priesthood and the final moments of the film seeing him take confessions from a long line of supporters, it seems like the movie Father Stu wanted to be was the latter. It doesn’t really achieve it.

Intention vs. Reality

Ultimately, Father Stu feels like a film that’s trying to be something that it never quite achieves. The specific, intentional cinematography and the ruminations about life and faith say it longs to fulfill the qualities of a prestige drama. But the uneven pacing and often stilted, forced dialogue won’t let it get there. Similarly, the feature seems to want to appeal to audiences outside the typical “faith-based” audience – but it doesn’t quite do enough to fully land with secular viewers, either. Father Stu has an emotionally resonant true story at its core. But the film itself never manages to be as compelling as it clearly hoped to be.

Father Stu poster

Father Stu premieres in theaters April 13.