Based on the true story of Catholic priest Father Stuart Long (portrayed in the movie by Mark Wahlberg), this biopic definitely has a firm foundation, with an inspiring spiritual story of redemption. During Long’s youth and young adult years, he endured heartbreak through the loss of his brother, and the subsequent divorce of his parents (Jacki Weaver, Mel Gibson) Long also endured much verbal abuse by his father, who took out his own personal heartache on his surviving son. Stuart would eventually pursue a career in boxing that ultimately lead to nowhere except hospitals and doctors’ offices.

His own personal struggles and failures would lead him down a path of alcoholism (much like his father), and self-destructive behavior. It would take a fateful encounter with an attractive Catholic woman named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) to get Stuart to step foot into a church and set him on a better path. But, it would take a nearly fatal motorcycle accident to truly get Long to wake up and see the dangerous path he was pursuing. Given an unlikely second chance at life inspires Stuart Long to become a priest, but this wouldn’t be the only challenge life would deal him during the rest of his life.

Written and directed by Rosalind Ross, Father Stu certainly has the makings of an amazing film, but unfortunately shows the weaknesses of a first-time filmmaker. Though the writing is solid enough, and has plenty going for it to inspire and affect audiences, the technical issues and directorial choices really take much away from the overall experience. The movie suffers from sound issues which make it difficult to often decipher what the fast-talking Stuart Long is saying. Also, the makeup used to make Wahlberg’s Long appear heavier in his latter years looks terrible and artificial. Apparently Wahlberg gained weight for the role, and I think he would have been much better off had the filmmakers had decided not to add bad makeup effects to the actor.

That is not to say that I totally hated this movie. I feel that the themes addressed in telling Long’s story is very powerful and compelling. One doesn’t necessarily have to be a Catholic or Christian to be affected by what the man went through and endured to become a stronger and better man who would eventually touch the lives of others in some very positive ways. I was also rather impressed with the multi-faceted turn by Wahlberg, who puts much heart and soul into his character.

Not since Boogie Nights have I seen such a great performance by the actor that shows palpable vulnerabilities and doesn’t simply rely on the actor to be an action figure or eye candy. As Stuart’s father Bill, Mel Gibson performs well enough, but suffers from inadequate character development. The same goes for Jacki Weaver, whose character Kathleen lacks the proper writing to make her role more interesting or deserving of some empathy. The film also features middle-of-the-road turns by Teresa Ruiz and Malcolm McDowell, but these characters also get hindered by the writing and poor development.

At its best Father Stu is watchable, and does manage to have an impact, but at its worse, it is frustrating and irritating. I have no idea how much experience writer/director Rosalind Ross actually has, but this movie shows that she still has much to learn. Also, she definitely needs a better sound team and editors to help her polish her films. Just because a character shows his flaws–warts and all–to be more relatable to the audience, that does not mean we need to see any warts and flaws in the presentation of said character.

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