‘Father Stu’ Goes All In on Redemption

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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

The Fascinatingly Conflicted ‘Bombshell’ Documents the Downfall of Roger Ailes

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CREDIT: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP

Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Rob Delaney, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Mark Duplass, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Liv Hewson, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell

Director: Jay Roach

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: R for Powerful Men Behaving Badly

Release Date: December 13, 2019 (Limited)/Expands December 20, 2019

Most of the audience who will see Bombshell are probably not regular Fox News viewers. Although I don’t want to assume anything too definitively. Maybe there are actually some people who have the mental capacity to watch both a notoriously conservative news network and a movie that is fundamentally critical about it. Bombshell makes a similar argument against rushing to judgment when being critical seems like the most obvious correct approach to take, especially in one key scene when a woman confronts Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) in a grocery store, and Carlson shoots back about the virtue of treating with respect the people you disagree with. That could easily be a shallow bromide, but when you consider what Carlson is going through, it has unexpected resonance.

What Carlson is going through is a fight against the systematic misogyny at Fox News, a workplace whose initiation for its female employees apparently includes a signature piece of harassment from founder Roger Ailes (a gluttonously made-up John Lithgow). After Carlson is let go from the network in 2016, she files a lawsuit alleging harassment against Ailes, prompting the other women at Fox News to consider if they will support her. Many of them are reflexively Team Roger, but a few of them actually have a crisis of conscience, especially Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and a fictional character named Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie).

The filmmaking trick here is generating empathy, which is generally pretty easy to do for people who have clearly been harassed and abused. But matters are complicated by the fact that these women so resolutely insist that they’re not feminists as they come to terms with speaking out against the misogyny they’ve endured. I certainly believe it is possible to extend humanity to someone you deeply disagree with, but the struggle is even deeper than that. Even if these women leave and renounce their employer, they can’t ever escape the mark of having once worked at Fox News, so far removed is the network from the rest of the media landscape. It’s a sort of original sin that traps them in an infinite labyrinth. For a film that could have so easily been straightforward in many ways, I appreciate the complexity at its heart.

Bombshell is Recommended If You Like: Feeling disgusted and empathetic at the same time

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Lawsuits