Mark Wahlberg & Mel Gibson in Trite True Story – The Hollywood Reporter

“Faith-based” films resonate with a specific audience, but also have a lesser-than-pleasant smell to non-believers or skeptics. Mark Wahlberg, his star and producer Father Stu, and the film’s screenwriter-director, Rosalind Ross, was certainly aware of the prejudices that could be welcomed by any addition to the genre. They did their best to avoid mistakes, and they did, although perhaps very well. Their film is not sanctifying, but neither is it as exciting as they would like. Despite some R-rated language, the whole business seems mild and frivolous.

It may have an audience because of Wahlberg’s followers and the amazing real-life story it tells, but it seems unlikely to convert those who already have no particular interest in stories of spiritual redemption.

Father Stu

The bottom line

Viewers will not be converted.

Release date: Wednesday 13 April (Sony Pictures)

Mold: Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz

Director-screenwriter: Rosalind Ross

R rating, 2 hours 4 minutes

Stuart Long was a real person who made a long, circular journey to the priesthood. He started as an amateur boxer and then as an aspiring film actor with a hot temper that gave him a criminal record. According to the film, his religious conversion began with his love for a faithful Hispanic woman (played by Teresa Ruiz), who persuaded him to be baptized. But he took his new spiritual longing more seriously than he expected when he suddenly announced that he had decided to become a priest.

If this sounds a bit hasty and unconvincing, it sums up the film’s main problem: Everything happens pretty much fast. Ross introduces Stu to the boxing ring in his state of Montana, but an injury quickly drives him away from that passion for a new life in Hollywood.

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We also rush through his troubled family background. His parents (played by Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver) are estranged and Stu feels unable to live up to their memories of his brother, who died years earlier. So he goes to Los Angeles, fails in acting, then falls in love and discovers religion.

Given his rather good past, it is not surprising that the monsignor in the parish he belongs to (the always trustworthy Malcolm McDowell) rejects him as a candidate for the priesthood. But Stu persists and beats the monsignor in his case with minimal pressure and effort. One can assume that Ross wanted the events to unfold quickly and not painfully, but the divided storytelling works against intense emotional involvement.

Admittedly, religious devotion is an extremely difficult subject to dramatize, but Fred Zinnemann did it in the great 1959 drama. The story of the nunwho took the time to explore the details of a religious calling as well as the ambivalence a candidate may feel. Father Stu looks more like the lite version of a conversion drama. Other elements of the story are similarly spasmodic: Stu’s rapprochement with his cold, ruthless father seems very painless to have been achieved, for example, like the reunion of estranged parents.

Given the failures of the script, the interpretations are often surprisingly effective. Wahlberg captures Stu’s charm without overselling it. Ruiz is engaged and although Australian actress Weaver is not always convincing as Montana mom, she has some dynamic scenes. Gibson actually gives one of the strongest performances of his career. It does not soften the character, and even when Bill starts to warm Stu, Gibson does not overdo the feeling.

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There are, unfortunately, some moments when the antics of off-screen actors add an uncomfortable note to the process. A scene in which Stu hits a gay producer he meets throws us out of the film to remind us of Wahlberg’s violent past. (An early scene of young Stu dancing in his underwear is reminiscent of another part of Wahlberg’s story.) And Gibson’s statement that Stu’s decision to join the church is “like Hitler asking to join the ADL Also evokes disturbing memories of the co-star’s behavior.

Supporting performances by McDowell, Aaron Moten, Cody Fern and others add texture. The locations are impressively captured by cinematographer Jacques Jouffret. The score of country music is enough, but it works quite effectively. Although this true story (even if it is decorated a bit by the filmmakers) inevitably creates some emotion, it ends up feeling more commonplace than spiritually uplifting.

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