Mark Wahlberg prays that the Oscar gods shine favourably upon him with the biopic Father Stu.
The film follows the life of Father Stuart Long, a boxer-turned-priest who inspired countless people during his journey from self-destruction to redemption.
This has been a passion project for Wahlberg. A Passion Of The Christ Project if you will. One can understand the appeal of the role to Wahlberg. After all, similar to Father Long this is a man who successfully switched careers. Albeit from underwear model and musician to Academy Award nominated actor.
It is amusing to see the poster lead with “Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg”. It is clear that this is his attempt at a juicy Oscar bait role. On paper it ticks several boxes. Based on a true story. An underdog story. A character battling an illness.
However… Wahlberg’s (admittedly deserved) nomination was for The Departed. One that was earned by stealing scenes from DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson by creatively swearing in a Boston accent. A role like this is something else entirely. His other nomination was for producing The Fighter and the part of Stuart Long is one that his co-star on that film Christian Bale is much more suited to.
Wahlberg’s natural charisma, swagger and confidence work just fine in the first half of the film. It is when he starts his journey to becoming a priest, and his subsequent health problems that he buckles under the weight of the task. There is one scene in particular where he is talking to God and has a complete breakdown following his diagnosis. What should be his “Oscar clip” is instead comparable with a man seemingly forcing himself to cry by using the Joey Tribbiani school of acting trick of using a pair of tweezers to pluck a pubic hair and looking like is straining to pass wind.
There is also the issue of Long’s weight gain that looked like incredibly poor quality prosthetics but in fact was real weight that Wahlberg put on. So really, instead of putting on 30-50 pounds to look like Fat Bastard from Austin Powers, he could have simply borrowed the Fat Bastard prosthetics. That sums up the major problem with the performance. One cannot fault his dedication, it is his lack of conviction that proves his undoing.
That lack of conviction permeates throughout the whole film.
Long’s mother rolls her eyes at his dream of becoming an actor. She worries he never sticks to anything and his career path changes with the wind. Indeed just like his dream of Hollywood is a means to making money and fame, his baptism into Catholicism is initially presented as just another thing Stuart does purely to impress the girl. The film skips over his time in the church too quickly for it to resonate with audiences. One is still sceptical of his true intentions.
When he decides to become a priest following a vision he has after a tragic motorcycle accident, the audience needs more convincing to buy into his journey. What it needed was a montage. Even Rocky had a montage. Yes, this one technically does but it seems to show Stu coasting along with his training and fails to show the obstacles he was up against. Whether that was physically, educationally or structurally (with some within the church itself reticent to his ambitions).
Father Stu should have been a truly inspiring tale based on an incredible true story. Instead, the end result is a generic, paint-by-numbers biopic that feels made up and that is a real sin.
Father Stu is in UK cinemas from May 13
Director: Rosalind Ross
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Teresa Ruiz, Jacki Weaver, Mel Gibson
Runtime: 124 minutes