Film view: Mark Wahlberg turns to the church to win a woman's heart in the biographical drama Father Stu

·4-min read
Firestarter with Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlie

Pictures: PA
Firestarter with Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlie Pictures: PA


Mark Wahlberg is miscast as an embattled soul who discovers his calling as a messenger of the Lord in a well-meaning biographical drama of triumph against adversity that marks the directorial debut of Mel Gibson's partner, Rosalind Ross.

Inspired by an improbable true story, Father Stu is a passion project for the devoutly Catholic leading man.

He invested millions of his own money to finance the faith-based picture and consumed 11,000 calories a day to achieve a startling physical transformation as his character battles a degenerative muscular condition.

The script preaches forgiveness and resilience in broad strokes, following Wahlberg's eponymous brawler turned priest as he draws on a turbulent childhood to minister to his flock until a shocking medical diagnosis tees up the tear-stained final act.

Despite a two-hour running time, the film repeatedly uses shorthand to illustrate fraught relationships.

Stu's ability to engage in an unapologetically forthright manner merits a single scene of uncomfortable home truths to a room full of bullish prison inmates.

A central romance lacks fluidity and, when two feuding characters hurriedly reconcile on screen, Stu's visible confusion perfectly reflects our bewilderment.

From an early age, Stuart Long (Wahlberg) yearns to impress his hard-drinking father Bill (Gibson) but the death of his brother Stephen creates a rift in the family that can never be healed despite the best efforts of Stu's long-suffering mother Kathleen (Jacki Weaver).

Consequently, Stu rages against the world like his belligerent old man.

As an amateur boxer, he loses just two of 17 bouts inside the ring but repeated blows to the body and head take their toll and Stu decides to try his luck as an actor in Hollywood, eventually landing a daytime TV commercial for Marvelous Mops.

Working on the meat counter of a grocery store between auditions, Stu becomes instantly smitten with one customer, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz).

She is an active member of the local Catholic Church so Stu is baptised and persuades sceptical Monsignor Kelly (Malcolm McDowell) to enrol him in a seminary alongside parishioners Ham (Aaron Moten) and Jacob (Cody Fern).

"I'm gonna be a priest," Stu informs his mother.

"For Halloween?" replies Kathleen, dumbfounded.

Speaking from the heart, Stu forms meaningful connections in California until a rare muscle-weakening disease, inclusion body myositis, forces him to move back home to Montana to live out his final days with his parents.

Father Stu fails to dig deep beneath the bruising facade of the titular protagonist and the people around him.

Weaver is under-used and Ruiz has disappointingly limited screen time in which to make her sassy love interest feel like more than a plot device.

Archive footage of the real-life priest over the end credits delivers a heftier emotional punch than anything Ross and her collaborators can muster.



Stephen King's celebrated 1980 novel kindled a film adaptation four years later starring David Keith and a cherubic Drew Barrymore.

Screenwriter Scott Teems revamps the source material for a supernatural horror, which tests the bond between a father and daughter on the run from a shadowy agency.

Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) is director of The Shop, a top-secret government offshoot, which intends to capture one of its test subjects, Andrew McGee (Zac Efron), who developed telepathic abilities in response to an experimental drug.

Andrew's daughter Charlene (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is blessed - or perhaps cursed - with devastating pyrokinetic powers.

Andrew joins her on the run from assassin John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) and other nefarious individuals who seek to weaponise Charlene.


Michelle Yeoh crouches like a tiger and hides like a dragon as she tumbles through the multiverse in a fantastical yarn directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.

Evelyn Wang (Yeoh) runs a laundromat in California with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), who has a habit of sticking googly eyes on objects to make life seem happier than it is.

Their efforts to raise a teenage daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu) with more tenderness and consideration than Evelyn received from her domineering father Gong Gong (James Hong) haven't been entirely successful.

Joy is wary of her parents' reactions when she introduces them to her long-time girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel).

As Evelyn hurriedly completes her tax return ahead of an audit by merciless IRS agent Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis) and a Chinese New Year party in honour of Gong Gong's latest visit, the beleaguered mother receives alarming news: she alone can save the multiverse from destruction.