Father Stu: Mark Wahlberg’s latest Oscar-baiting pray for acting glory falls flat


Father Stu (M, 124mins) Directed by Rosalind Ross **½

REVIEW: Mark Wahlberg’s latest attempt at acting legitimacy and potential awards glory certainly demonstrates a commitment to his craft.

The 51-year-old apparently piled on 14kg in order to play the complicated and equally passionate Stuart Long, as well as pretty much funding this project himself, after multiple studios turned him down.

Unfortunately, despite this true-life tale practically screaming Oscar-bait (this offers a radical change in career, spiritual redemption, a love story and a potentially fatal illness all rolled into one) and echoes of his most lauded performances in The Fighter and Boogie Nights, the result is a fitfully entertaining, patchy biopic that sticks pretty close to the well-worn template, right down to footage of the real Stuart Long over the end credits.

And like Wahlberg’s last “serious” effort – 2020’s Joe Bell – a promising start eventually succumbs to over-earnestness, although at least here there’s no big telegraphed twist. What you see is pretty much what you’d expect from the outset.

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Father Stu is now available to rent from Neon, iTunes and GooglePlay.

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Despite still being ranked as Montana’s No. 2 heavyweight boxer, when we first meet Long, he’s getting past his prime.

Having developed fevers and infections after his last three fights, both his doctor and his mother Kathleen (Jacki Weaver) urge him to pack it in.

“If you put half the same effort into a regular job, you’d be a manager,” she chides, before adding, “damn you for being so careless with your life”.

Like Stuart and her estranged husband Bill (Mel Gibson), she still haunted by the death of her other son Stephen, when aged just six.

Like Mark Wahlberg's last “serious” effort – 2020's Joe Bell – a promising start eventually succumbs to over-earnestness.

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Like Mark Wahlberg’s last “serious” effort – 2020’s Joe Bell – a promising start eventually succumbs to over-earnestness.

After a drunken night where he punches a stone statue of Jesus and “challenges an officer’s judgement”, Stuart has an epiphany – he was born to perform, he just hasn’t found the right stage. To the strains of Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy, he heads to Hollywood, taking a job in a supermarket, figuring its most likely where he’ll meet those in the movie business.

While that’s not exactly a roaring success, it does lead to an encounter with the enchanting Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). Despite rebuffing his initial overtures, he tracks her down to a local Catholic Church and, determined to win her over, not only helps out with her Sunday School classes, but agrees to be baptised.

“I’m not what you’re used to – or what you deserve – but I’ll be better than both,” he promises.

However, it’s a bike accident that changes everything. Left in a coma and with significant trauma to both his head and vital organs, Stuart is not expected to live long. So when he comes to and slowly recovers, he’s certain that somebody thought he was worth saving – and now it’s up to him to show what he’s got to offer. Neither his parents – nor the local seminary – though are exactly convinced of his prospective priestly credentials.

While not without its moments, Father Stu is really only for true Mark Wahlberg believers.

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While not without its moments, Father Stu is really only for true Mark Wahlberg believers.

While Australian Weaver delivers fraught-matriarch to her usual high standard, it’s Gibson who is the surprise revelation here. Now pretty much reduced to one-note villains and fatally flawed heroes, the former Oscar winner’s initially by-the-book belligerent and bellicose Bill develops into a far more nuanced character, perhaps even more so than Stuart himself. He also gets many of the pithiest lines, offering a welcome succinctness in a movie where Wahlberg pontificates, proselytises and spouts profanities in equal measure.

While not without its moments, it’s one really only for true Wahlberg believers.

Father Stu is now available to rent from iTunes, GooglePlay and Neon.

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