Movie Review: Father Stu
Cast and production
Mark Wahlberg: Fr. Stuart Long
Mel Gibson: Bill Long, Stu’s father
Jacki Weaver: Kathleen Long, Stu’s mother
Teresa Ruiz: Young Stu’s girlfriend
Director: Rosalind Ross (debut)
Production: Columbia Pictures
Distribution: Sony Pictures
Release Date: April 15, 2022
“Don’t pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one. The experience of suffering is the fullest expression of God’s love.”
Fr. Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg, in the photo above), in the movie Father Stu, is quoted as saying this at the Mass during which he was ordained a priest. The late actor and martial artist Bruce Lee likely coined the first half of this expression. How apropos, since the story of Fr. Long portrayed in this film (based on facts) highlights the title character’s time as a boxer.
Stu has a rough upbringing: a brother dies at age six, his separated parents live worlds apart, and members of the entire family seem to have a chip on their shoulder. His crass, foul-mouthed father (Mel Gibson) is no nurturer. Stu describes himself as a “rambunctious” boy.
It’s a surprise that Stu, a self-destructive agnostic with no past religious training who struggles to find his place in the world, becomes a priest. He connects with people in amazing ways.
His interest in the faith is sparked by Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), a beautiful young woman who is a devout Catholic. Stu is baptized, but it isn’t until a motorcycle accident that leaves him on the verge of death that he literally has a come-to-Jesus moment. He decides to fully devote his life to Christ and pursue the vocation of the priesthood, joining the seminary in 2003. This path is rocky, and it isn’t long before he learns firsthand what it means to unite personal suffering with the passion of Jesus. Diagnosed with a muscular disorder called inclusion body myositis, which mimics symptoms associated with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), by the end of his life he’s confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home. Fr. Stu, fifty when he died in 2014, was candid, funny, and continually grateful to God.
Father Stu, rated R for language, is scheduled to open on Good Friday. It communicates the power of redemption. Its message speaks directly of God’s grace, the power grace gives people to forgive, and how all need to embrace the capacity for change. God can transform anyone, as Fr. Long exemplified. He showed that healing can come when we stop fighting.
Elizabeth A. Herzing-Gebhart