Google “Mark Wahlberg Catholic”, and before typing the third letter, “Mark Wahlberg Calvin Klein” is auto-completed. That the actor’s faith is further overshadowed by the 1992 underwear campaign that transformed him from “Marky Mark” rapper to fashion icon is perhaps unsurprising. After all, he’s the guy whose lead role was as porn star “Dirk Diggler” in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 opus. boogie nightsthe high school dropout who for decades embodied American blue-collar Adonis – from a philosopher firefighter to I Heart Huckabees (2004) to a working class boxing competitor The fighter (2010).
More surprising to some perhaps than Wahlberg’s last film – Father Stu, based on the true story of Stuart Long, a priest with a degenerative muscle disease — is a natural fit for the actor. Written and directed by Rosalind Ross and financed in part by Mel Gibson, this improbable tearjerker with a respectful twist has, despite lukewarm box office returns, drawn viewers in droves over Easter weekend, particularly in highly Catholics. And the strange appeal of the film makes sense. Imagine if Dirk Diggler was twenty years older and instead of driving to Hollywood from South Bay, trucks drove from rural Montana as a welterweight after his prime. Imagine if, instead of finding fame in X-rated movies, he converts to Catholicism in hopes of impressing a devout Hispanic woman (who, according to his supermarket colleague, is a certified “dime”) . Imagine if, rather than frolicking with a hodgepodge of ’70s centerfolds and budding movie stars, his makeshift family was made up of working-class immigrants and seminarians from a local Catholic church.
Still with me? The craziest part of Father Stu is that, on some level, it’s much the same as the PTA masterpiece: a rambling white that’s too charismatic for its own good, too crass for a typical 9-5, seek and find a validation in a world very different from his own. But unlike Dirk, Wahlberg’s Stu is redeemed rather than demoralized, thanks to the gradual realization that drinking and brawling his days might not be the best way to get the girl (or not go). in prison). “Life is going to give you plenty to be angry about, kid. You only need one to be grateful,” says a stranger concerned about Stu’s permanent appointment at the local bar. “That’s the craziest ratio since the number of marshmallows in Lucky Charms,” is Stu’s response, characteristic of the funny profanity that surrounds much of his speech.
Witnessing Stu’s sputtering spiritual awakening can be quite entertaining, especially for the pagans among us. Encouraged by his girlfriend Carmen (Teresa de Ruiz), Stu is baptized, teaches Sunday school and, following a near-death experience after a motorcycle accident, realizes that he is called to reject a life of debauchery and become a priest. The film’s tongue-in-cheek, Johnny Cash-esque approach to sin and salvation proves a refreshing departure from both the movie culture that portrays believers as morons and the Christian media machine that relies on small but grumpy.
That this Mel Gibson venture can only be enjoyable, yet moving, is as undeniable as it is uncomfortable to admit. A known sexist, anti-Semitic Trumpy, Gibson is nonetheless compelling as Stu’s vitriolic father — perhaps especially since he’s playing a character not unlike himself. And here, it’s imperative to point out that while this movie is pretty good at what it does, what it actually does isn’t always — or even usually — as good. Stu is ostensibly saved through his faith and unwavering endurance of great physical suffering, suggesting that standing and kneeling are one and the same. But along the same lines, the secular world is confused with emasculating depravity: a gay booking agent pressures Stu to suck him off, a trans sex worker seeks Stu’s attention outside a run-down motel . Stu takes advantage of Carmen’s endless supply of patience to abruptly reject her for the priesthood.
in so many ways Father Stu is as full of contradictions as the Church itself. On the one hand, Stu’s evolution from slimy narcissist to suffering saint follows a traditional “great man narrative” based on the idea that, with an iron will and refusal to take no for an answer, anyone (read : male) can be “great” and exceed society’s expectations. On the other hand, Stu’s ascent to the priesthood is only made possible by the extensive network of kinship he has established with other seminarians and parishioners of Los Angeles; when the diocese refuses to ordain him for what can only be called a brutally ableist logic, his community rallies to change its mind. In this regard, Father Stu seems to blame the Church to be a corrupt, hierarchical institution than to defend it as a sanctuary; similarly, Stu is rewarded for relying more on others than defying the odds on his own.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” claim the beatitudes on which so many Catholics and Christians are raised. By honoring the spirit of this creed, Father Stu seems to be unwittingly advancing a philosophy totally at odds with what much of American Christianity has become today. But when he bows down to individualism and hypermasculine pride, no amount of holy water can wash the stain away.
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