I’m not a particular fan of religion. As we know from Mr. Mel Gibson himself, he can use God as a way to drive fear into his audience’s hearts instead of promoting love. Mark Walberg wears his personal life on his sleeve to an extent with this film. Where Wahlberg was once a violent hoodlum, he’s now a famous actor trying to promote a positive image for children to aspire too. How genuine or fabricated that message may appear is entirely within the viewer’s perception. There’s nothing particularly enlightening in Father Stu’s structure nor character choices, yet the idea of forgiveness is dramatically compelling enough to work as a movie. If only barely.
Father Stu is the story of a man who was once a sinner, now turned faithful. Stuart, played by Mark Wahlberg, is a former boxer, which is not an uncommon rule for Mr. Wahlberg to play. The difference here is boxing isn’t our protagonist’s ultimate goal towards happiness in the end.
Stu is a drunk, violent, aggressive man who doesn’t know when to let things go. Including his women. One common cliché I find in movies that always bothers me is a protagonist’s incessant need in stalking his love interest. The girl who leads Stu on his path to salvation is one that Stu can’t stop following. Between the Kurt Warner story and this, I don’t understand what is charming about stalkers. It’s an invasion of privacy and a strategy that I’ve never used against my better judgment. Why do movies act like hounding a woman until she says yes is something that’s socially acceptable?
Aside from that grievance, Father Stu’s plot throws some left hooks I didn’t expect to feel. Rather than seeking fame and fortune like so many other biopics do, Father Stu doesn’t look towards financial benefit for content. Instead, kindness is the key to fulfilling our hero’s hearts. Stu is a failure in almost every aspect of his life. He failed as a boxer; he failed as an actor, and his body is falling apart. The debacle that is Stu’s life leads him towards the only path he has remaining; the path of the righteous.
Stuart Long’s life is a Hollywood story, despite Hollywood rejecting Stu. Every moment is dramatic to the point where you think, “that would only happen in a movie.” But it can feel tacky when only the hi lights from someone’s life is used as a tool to promote the most divisive subject humanity has to offer.
As stated in the beginning, I’m not religious. But during times of desperation, I wish I was. God gives people hope and strives for them to do better. Simultaneously religion brings about bigotry and holy wars. The majority of those who use Christ to better themselves and the love for their fellow man are lost amongst the sea of radicals. Mel Gibson included.
Mel Gibson’s role as the abusive dad to Father Stu, is quite fitting. Mel’s done playing the nice guy from now on, fully embracing his mania. Also, it helps to be cast when your wife is the writer and director of the film. Although Wahlberg is ultimately in charge of Father Stu’s distribution (he funded it himself), I have an inkling Mel Gibson had a large helping hand in getting his partner’s vision on the screen. Aside from our personal feelings about both men, isn’t it Jesus who would try to forgive them? What penance must they prove?
Would it be an eye for an eye in Wahlberg’s case and the crucifixion of Gibson’s career? Mel paid his dues career-wise, but his behavior shows he hasn’t learned much. If it is forgiveness the Lord teaches, I can avoid judgement while enjoying Father Stu, which can be genuinely uplifting in all of its conventions, thanks to Mark Wahlberg’s performance.
When the proper role fits the actor, the sky’s the limit. Mark Wahlberg provides his best acting since Boogie Nights, not just because he gained an ungodly amount of weight but the similarities in the characters to the actors themselves. Like Boogie Nights‘ Eddie Dirk Diggler, Stuart Long is an obnoxious twirp who must learn to be kinder to his fellow man. Mark Wahlberg comes across as obnoxious to some people. When he says he wants to be a positive image for kids, we question if he’s genuine in his message. Nobody believes Stu wants to be a man of God. Why should they? Look at his violent past.
Like Diggler’s arc, it’s not until Dirk returns to Jack as Eddie and when Stu surrenders to the Lord that he is reunited with an image of a better self. If Wahlberg intends to proceed forward with more religion-based films, the story of Stuart Long can come across as heartfelt as a televised preacher in the long run.