By: Russ Matthews, Reel Dialogue
With all that we have at our disposal online, an army of amateur sleuths will investigate when the based on a ‘true story’ moniker is put on a film. It does not take too many clicks of the computer before most people can ascertain if an account is accurate or merely dramatised history.
Despite the potential scrutiny, Mark Wahlberg (Instant Family) has been trying to get the true-to-life tale of Father Stu to theatres for years. Now with the blessing of the Catholic Church and Stuart Long’s family, Wahlberg gets to see it become a reality while he takes on the lead role.
Things begin in Montana, where Long grew up in a challenging and broken home, but eventually found his calling in the boxing ring. Even though he struggled to find sponsors, he maintained an impressive career until jaw surgery put an end to it all. Instead of being out for the count, Stu decides that he would have a crack at acting in Hollywood. As he worked behind the meat counter at the local grocery store trying to market himself to anyone who would take notice, the amateur butcher took notice of Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). She was not in the entertainment industry, but Stu decided to pursue her straight to the Catholic Church.
Since she would not date anyone who was not of the same faith, Long decides to be baptised and become a Catholic. Yet, even though his intentions had been to pursue the love of his life, Stu’s focus went from Carmen to God. Instead of marrying this beautiful young woman, Stu determines that his calling is to become a priest. A choice that came with significant opposition from his girlfriend, his family and especially the church. Still, his fighting spirit managed to get him in the door to begin his training until he was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis. This degenerative disease would lead him towards the biggest fight of his life.
Even though many people may not have heard of Stuart Long, his story inspired many, including Mark Wahlberg. As a teenage-convict-turned-Academy-award nominated actor, Wahlberg identified with the former boxer’s journey to redemption. In an interview on CBS Sports, he stated that he hoped to “make a mainstream movie that celebrated having a close relationship with God at a time when people are kinda shying away from faith.” As producer and lead in the film, there is no doubt that he did all he could to make this story come to life. In an inspirational turn, Wahlberg went to physical extremes to be fighting fit in the boxing ring and then gain the weight of the wheelchair-bound priest. Along with this bodily transformation, he manages to embody the raw personality of Stuart Long.
Jackie Weaver and Mel Gibson put in outstanding performances as Long’s parents. At the same time, Teresa Ruiz provided heartfelt inspiration for the boxer who chose to become a priest. Each actor works well with the script that struggles to support its cast, but still manages to convey the heart of this biographical sketch. Like the central character, the screenplay does not hold back on the course and confronting lifestyle that he lived before meeting God. Despite being labelled a faith-based film, this is not a standard sanitised Christian film. First-time director Rosalind Ross has been given full licence to show the fierce nature of Stuart Long while showing that God did make a difference in his life.
Father Stu was a wonderful surprise and one worth discovering. The filmmakers did their due diligence to stay true to Long’s story and managed to show how faith in God can change any person’s heart.
Reel Dialogue: Can We Honestly Consider Suffering a Positive Thing?
Father Stuart Long was quoted saying this about his muscle disorder, “It’s a very curious experience, because through the difficulties and the struggles that I’ve been through, the problems that have arisen from this, and the people, especially my dad, who have come to my side to support me and aid me, you know, and assist me through this life since I’ve been diagnosed with this, it’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. … It’s helped me overcome some of my prideful ways, which were a big cross for me for many years. It’s taught me a little humility. It’s taught me dignity and respect for others, especially for those who share the condition that I’m in.”
He added, “The struggles of this disease helped me and help others to learn the way that we should have been living all along. And sometimes, with people like me, there’s an extreme example, we need things like this to be able to make those changes and decisions in our life that are gonna help us to become better people, to become the people that God has created us to be when he sent us to this planet.” – History vs Hollywood
To complement Father Stu’s words, this passage in John opens the discussion on suffering. It is an example of God’s mysterious ways and how some of life’s difficulties can be a means of showing mercy and grace in people’s lives. This portion of the Bible merely opens the door to the conversation; if you would like to discuss this topic, contact our team at Third Space.
John 9:2-5 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum.
About the author: Russ Matthews is a film critic at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and sparking spiritual conversations.
Feature image: Movie stills