Father Stu (CREDIT: Karen Ballard/Columbia Pictures)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver, Teresa Ruiz, Aaron Moten, Cody Fern, Malcolm McDowell

Director: Rosalind Ross

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: R for Not-Very-Priestly Language

Release Date: April 13, 2022 (Theaters)

Religion and certainty are a dangerous combination. That’s why my skepticism alarms go off whenever stereotypical “faith-based” films saunter in, what with their tendency to be so sure about themselves when it comes to metaphysical mysteries. But a more difficult struggle with Christianity is rife for compelling drama, which brings us to Father Stu. Based on the true story of a boxer who hangs up his gloves and heads to the seminary, it presents a complicated crossroads between these two extremes. The title character doesn’t do half-measures, so when he hears God calling, nobody can stand in his way. But within the certainty of his vocation, he recognizes and embodies the doubts that the faithful wrestle with every day.

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) has plenty of reasons to reject the notion of a merciful deity. His brother died when they were kids, his dad (Mel Gibson) is an alcoholic deadbeat, and he’s getting a little too old for his boxing career to go anywhere promising. And when he first joins the Church, it’s not like his intentions are exactly pure, as he’s just trying to win over the woman he has a crush on (Teresa Ruiz). It’s actually tragedy that leads him to the collar, as a horrific motorcycle accident leaves him in a coma during which visions of the Virgin Mary suddenly steer him to a life of shepherding his flock. After he hustles his way into a seminary despite the skepticism of an image-conscious monsignor (Malcolm McDowell), he is felled once again, this time by a diagnosis of inclusion body myositis, a degenerative disease that will shut down his muscles just when he’s figured out what he wants to do with them.

What struck me most powerfully about Father Stu was its honesty about the contradictions inherent to a priestly life. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has certain rules and regulations, but they can easily get in the way of the message of redemption at the heart of the religion. And while priests are expected to take a vow of celibacy, that doesn’t take away their capacity for romance. They can choose not to act on these feelings, of course, but that doesn’t relieve them of the emotional fallout that remains in their past, and current, relationships. This is a thoroughly Catholic tale that will probably resonate most strongly with the already converted. Nevertheless, its plea for redemption is fully inclusive: it acknowledges the doubts worth having about religion, while remaining certain that its story needs to be told.

Father Stu is Recommended If You Like: A rousing homily

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Baptisms