Mark Wahlberg & Mel Gibson in Trite True Story – The Hollywood Reporter

“Faith-based” movies have appeal to certain audiences, but they also smell less pleasant to non-believers or skeptics. Mark Wahlberg, the star and producer of father stu, and the film’s writer-director Rosalind Ross were no doubt aware of the biases that could greet any addition to the genre. They have made an effort to avoid molasses, and in this they have succeeded, although perhaps too well. Their movie isn’t sanctimonious, but it’s also not as convincing as they might have wanted. Despite an R-rated language, the entire company seems bland and shallow.

It may have an audience because of Wahlberg’s following and the amazing true-life story it relates, but it seems unlikely to convert those who don’t already have a vested interest in spiritual redemption stories.

father stu

The bottom line

Viewers will not convert.

Release date: Wednesday April 13 (Sony Pictures)

To emit: Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz

Director-screenwriter: Rosalind Ross

Rated R, 2 hours 4 minutes

Stuart Long was a real person who took a long and winding road to the priesthood. He started out as an amateur boxer, then an aspiring movie actor with a hot temper that led to a criminal record. According to the film, his religious conversion began with his love for a devout Hispanic woman (actually played by Teresa Ruiz), who persuaded him to be baptized. But he took her newfound spiritual longing more seriously than she expected when he suddenly announced that he had decided to become a priest.

If that sounds a little rushed and unconvincing, it sums up the main problem with the movie: it all happens a little too fast. Ross introduces us to Stu in the boxing ring in his home state of Montana, but an injury quickly pulls him from that passion to a new life in Hollywood.

We also hurried past her troubled family history. Her parents (played by Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver) are estranged, and Stu feels she can’t live up to the memories of her brother, who died years before. She then heads to Los Angeles, fails at acting, then falls in love and discovers religion.

Given his rather checkered past, it’s no surprise that the monsignor of the parish he joins (the ever-reliable Malcolm McDowell) turns him down as a candidate for the priesthood. But Stu persists and wins the monsignor to his cause with a minimum of strain and effort. One can appreciate that Ross wanted events to unfold quickly rather than laboriously, but the fragmented narrative works against intense emotional involvement.

It’s true that religious devotion is a notoriously difficult subject to dramatize, but Fred Zinnemann pulled it off in his excellent 1959 drama, The story of the nunwho took the time to explore the minutiae of a religious vocation, as well as the ambivalence an aspirant might feel. father stu it’s more like the lite version of a conversion drama. Other elements of the story are similarly sloppy: Stu’s rapprochement with her cold, unforgiving father seems a bit too accomplished, for example, as does the estranged parents’ reunion.

Given the script’s flaws, the performances are often surprisingly effective. Wahlberg captures Stu’s charm without going overboard. Ruiz is attractive, and while Australian actress Weaver isn’t always convincing as Montana’s mother, she does have some strong scenes. Gibson actually gives one of the strongest performances of her career. He doesn’t soften the character, and even when Bill begins to warm to Stu, Gibson doesn’t exaggerate her feelings.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of moments where the actors’ off-screen antics add an awkward note to the proceedings. A scene in which Stu punches a gay producer who approaches him takes us out of the film to remind us of Wahlberg’s violent past. (An early scene with young Stu dancing in his underwear evokes another part of Wahlberg’s story.) And Gibson’s line that Stu’s decision to join the church is “like Hitler asking to join the ADL” also stirs up disturbing memories of the co-star’s behavior. .

Supporting performances from McDowell, Aaron Moten, Cody Fern and others add texture. Cinematographer Jacques Jouffret amazingly captured the locations. The mostly country music score is a bit over the top but it works effectively enough. Although this true story (even if the filmmakers embellish it a bit) inevitably generates some excitement, it ends up feeling more banal than spiritually exalted.

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