From Angry Father to A Loving God: FATHER STU

A Movie Review by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP

FATHER STU, a film about a real-life-narcissistic-troubled soul’s transformation, explores and incarnates the adage: “God writes straight with crooked lines.”  It is an engaging movie offering a high-quality performance by Mark Wahlberg as the real Stuart Long (1964-2014) a sort of Southern, Elvis-fed Hillbilly growing up in an exquisitely dysfunctional family who stumbles upon Catholic Christianity despite himself. Not saccharine, not preachy, this is a COMEDY-DRAMA with inspired casting, earthy expletives, and a strong pull to see just where this film-and where this man is going.  Its dramatic component gently eases us into the nature of faith, and, especially, a theology of suffering.  The script by Rosalind Ross puts more of a light, evangelical spin on the JOB dilemma than a more deeply nuanced Catholic one (Could no one have consulted ME?), but it makes sense based on the time frame and the locale. Bringing religious conversation into the secular movie world is always difficult, so when Stuart encounters parishioners at a local Catholic Church, there are times when we get all-too-typical Christian soundbites, instead of more profoundly intimate spiritual sharing.  Still, as director, Ross highlights terrific, nuanced facial expressions from a solid cast, and I’m happy to report that in FATHER STU, the whole is always greater than some of its parts.   

More about the casting:  Mark Wahlberg is perfect. He winningly incarnates the character’s transition from “Somebody Love Me, Please” self-absorption to a person who finds God in loving others – the film’s essential, vital theme. As the father-from-hell Mel Gibson is alarmingly compelling. What is it about this actor/director and his wrestling with faith-on-film? God know where he is on the faith spectrum, but his work is always thought-provoking, and Gibson captivates the menace here very well.  As Stuart’s mother, Jacki Weaver plays an excellent suffering soul. Along with her estranged husband, this mom offers the existential angst of a true cynic, yet her devotion to her son, and her hurt for the husband who abandoned her, is heart-wrenching. And Teresa Ruiz is radiant as Stuart’s love interest and the woman who instigates Stu’s faith journey. Indeed, these fascinating, well-crafted performances constitute the heart of this movie, even when the script and direction (also Rosalind Ross) don’t quite fulfill all the material’s potential.  Many scenes, however, are truly excellent, from the broad comedy of Stuart’s early adult life from boxing to acting to supermarket clerk and his infatuation with Ruiz, through to his conversion, and his torment. The intimate moments shared by Stu and his mother, and one with Ruiz near the film’s conclusion, are beautiful.

Although the trailers for FATHER STU make more than evident the plot’s trajectory, know that there will be surprises you are bound to appreciate. Make-up and Special Effects are among them and first-rate. We haven’t had a major motion picture exploring faith in a positive vain for some time. FATHER STU fits the bill nicely, and like a good parable, there’s much here to chew on and discuss as you leave the theater. Please go!   

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