This was a film that was not on my radar, and although it features two actors I have enjoyed immensely over the years, I had no plans to see it. Other members of the family however think differently and so we went to Saturday afternoon screening, with several people behind us who were advancing in age a bit faster than I, and we all enjoyed an inspiring story for a couple of hours. I doubt that I will ever see this again, but there was nothing wrong with it, it just was very obvious what it was.
Mark Wahlberg plays Stuart Long, a ne’er do well boxer who at an age when most boxers have already retired, decides that he can make it in the movies and he heads to California to be a star. As a recruiting film for the Catholic faith, this is an interesting story of how a man finds his calling through adversity. Stu is not a religious zealot, but a man changed by the world he encounters and the spiritual feeling he gets in recovering from a major trauma. The juxtaposition of Stu’s life before and after this experience, is the stuff that these kinds of inspirational movies thrive on. This just happens to be a grittier, down and dirty story when it comes to Stu’s language and behavior. The charm that let him skip through life early on, slipping past the disasters his family lived through, is not enough to get him what he thinks he wants. His spiritual choice has to come from a different place and this story tries to show that to us, warts and all.
Catholic dogma on redemption and baptism are heavily interspersed with the biographical elements of Father Stu’s story after he has come to a realization of his calling. For dramatic purposes, the story includes another acolyte with doubts about his calling, and some unflattering economic assessment by the church itself. I can’t say how accurate Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Stu’s long absent father is, but Gibson and Wahlberg are very good together and Jackie Weaver as Stu’s conflicted mother is both infuriating and endearing. I was pleased to see Malcolm McDowell in a non-sinister role, I always enjoy seeing him on screen.
The only flaw in the film is that it is not very surprising. It is sincere in it’s message and it wants to be inspirational. I found it admirable but I was rarely moved by the events in Father Stu’s life, I was mostly just interested in what was happening at the moment. If a movie like this does not grab your heart, it is not doing completely what it intends. I wanted to understand more about the paths that Stu was following, but the film is so tied into the biopic structure, that I never felt involved with the spiritual elements the way I should have been.
As a drama with some comedic elements, it worked well enough that I was glad I saw it. As a spiritual film designed for an Easter Holiday emotional magnet, it missed the mark. I’m glad there there are Father Stu characters in the world and that these stories get told, for the faithful it may be enough, but for the audience, we need a little more.