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Rated 3.06 stars
by 34 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Lucky Redemption
by Frank Wilkins

Those turned off by the squeaky clean nature and preaching-to-the-choir reality of most faith-based films these days certainly won’t have those complaints with the new movie called Father Stu. They may find plenty of other things to complain about, but, by taking full advantage of its R rating with plenty of rough language and violence, this “based on a true story” tale about finding redemption can’t be knocked for sanitizing the rough edges of its lost soul protagonist.

In fact, if anything, writer/director, Rosalind Ross may have gotten too caught up in her efforts to bring to her story the age-old construct of masculinity and how it tends to impede personal growth. Though it is the uplifting true story about a rough-and-tumble former boxer who made one poor decision after another throughout most of his life before eventually pursuing priesthood, we’re left feeling as if there’s a much deeper story behind Stu’s (Mark Wahlberg) transformation. Or perhaps, that there’s really just not much of a story there.

Sure, the ideas of hope, perseverance, and following one’s dreams are worthy themes that deserve exploring. But as depicted in Father Stu, we’re made to think that achieving those dreams is actually quite easy. The film’s first two acts feature a drawn out montage of Stu’s missteps that play out with very little consequence. Heavy drinking, beating people up, disrespecting our elders. It is all made to feel as if it’s just a normal part of life. As a result, we never feel fully invested in Stu’s eventual redemption. He just got lucky is all. Where’s the movie in that?

After quitting a somewhat successful boxing career after an injury, Stu moves to Hollywood where he finds marginal success as an actor. All seems hopeless until he meets Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), who he believes to be the love of his life before contracting a debilitating disease that eventually costs him the loss of mobility. Stu then becomes a priest. The end.

Of course, there’s much more to it as we’re shown snippets of his atheist upbringing by a caring mother (Jackie Weaver) and an absent alcoholic father (Mel Gibson). But what if Stu isn’t able to complete the necessary requirements of becoming a priest? Things could actually be much worse.

Perhaps told differently, or focused more acutely, there’s a meaningful story to be told. But as it is, Father Stu never quite connects with an audience intrigued by a dirtied up telling of discovering one’s faith. We feel like we’re working up to a triumphant moment, but that moment never arrives. Yes, he is eventually allowed into the priesthood (settle down, it’s on the poster!), but that moment feels less transcendent than what Ross was likely aiming for.

One thing Father Stu has going for it, is Wahlberg, who’s own life somewhat parallels that of Stu. Rising from the streets before striking it big in Hollywood is certainly a triumphant story in its own right, and Wahlberg’s passion for the project (he is a producer) is evident in his enthusiasm in the role.

Also deserving of mention is the film’s humor which comes mostly from the irreverence and crassness towards the church or from the back-and-forth banter between Stu and his father, Bill. Laugh out loud moments are sprinkled throughout, including the film’s finniest line from Weaver when Stu tells his mother that he’s going to be a priest. She responds with, “for Halloween?”

With its intentions of personal salvation unquestionably in the right place, there’s plenty of charm and grace in Father Stu. And maybe, just maybe, the salty language and R rating is enough to make you forget you’re being preached to. But that’s also why it is going to be a tough sell for getting the church crowd’s buy in. Not really sure who this one is for.

(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated “R” for language throughout.)

Review also posted at

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