Saturday, May 14, 2022

Father Stu

Last Tuesday night, I took advantage of a city council meeting running shorter than average to take in a movie, and I had two choices: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness or this tearjerker about a boxer and aspiring actor who turns his life around and studies to become a Catholic priest, starring Mark Wahlberg as an actual person named Stuart Long. I arrived at the box office, undecided which one I wanted to see. It so happened that a group of people from my church arrived just ahead of me and were going to see Father Stu together, so I joined them.

According to the movie, Long (1963-2014) was a ne'er-do-well who started going to church just to get close to a girl he liked. Then he finds himself on the motorcycle end of a motorcycle-car crash and has an experience of the Virgin Mary before being resuscitated. He makes a full recovery from the crash, but some unresolved medical issues hinted at earlier in the movie catch up on him soon afterward (possibly influenced by the head trauma he experienced, first as a boxer, then in the crash). He takes the girl out, she thinks to ask her to marry him, and instead tells her that he's going to be a priest. He gets no encouragement in this, either from her or from his atheist parents, played by Jacki Weaver and Mel Gibson, or from the bishop, played by Malcolm McDowell. But he perseveres in his calling, inspiring tons of people with his message of forgiveness and, to borrow from St. Paul, "power perfected in weakness."

Wahlberg's character is tough to watch at first, despite being in top physical shape in early scenes. Strangely, he becomes more attractive, the less attractive he becomes. Figure that one out. By the end of the movie, I was sniffling and blubbering all over the place and trying not to draw my church friends' attention to my emotional distress. Am I a soft touch? Yes. But I really did think Stu's message grew more powerful as his body became weaker, and his inward transformation was plain to see despite his outward transformation moving in the opposite direction. Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) The goody-two-shoes seminarian, who has been looking down his nose at Stu all through their preparation for the priesthood, confesses to him that he envies him for his refusal to give up when he had an "easy out" while the square guy would have taken any excuse to quit the ministry program. (2) The stranger at the bar, just before Stu's motorcycle wreck, tells him what he needs to hear and, later, without saying it outright, Stu visibly wonders if he hadn't seen Christ. (3) Stu's sermon at the end of the movie, 'nuff said. Stop it now, I'm getting choked up.

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