Been a while since I did a film review. And with so many films to pick from, I’m actually not sure why I’ve chosen this one.
Might have something to do with the fact it’s based on a true story. One with a heavy religious slant just right for the coming Yuletide holidays. Or maybe it’s the humdrum of the plot that strangely enough piqued my interest to pen this film review.
Or maybe because I thought it was a film about fatherhood. And regular readers know I love writing film reviews about daddy shows!
From a foul-mouth boxer to a converted Catholic
It’s not exactly a unique tale.
A foul-mouth down-and-out boxer named Stuart Long (Stu for short) gives up his career to pursue acting.
He then gets into a major road accident and has a divine encounter with Mother Mary followed by a miraculous recovery that defied the initial prognosis by the hospital.
That’s the first of two major turning points in Stu’s story.
One thing leads to another for Stu, and before you know it, the film ends with him becoming an ordained Roman Catholic priest in his birthplace Montana, USA.
In between, he falls for a girl Carmen, a fervent Catholic devotee who was instrumental in bringing him into the folds of the Catholic Church. While initially uninterested in his advances, she eventually capitulates.
Unfortunately, no earthly lass can hope to outdo Mother Mary when it comes to changing lives! While Carmen might have been the one who brought Stu into the Catholic faith, it was that divine encounter on the hospital bed (while fighting for his life) that compelled Stu to ultimately pursue priesthood.
Which meant the end of his still-burgeoning relationship with Carmen, since Catholic priests had to be celibate.
But even that wasn’t the tragedy, compared to the second turning point in Stu’s story.
As usual, I best warn you there will be spoilers hereon so if you actually plan to watch this film…anyway, you know the drill by now *wink*
From a converted Catholic to a quadriplegic
Now one would probably imagine that if Stu was divinely called to be a man of the cloth, then rightfully the journey to getting there should be pretty much a done deal right? Surely God would see to that, since the call issueth forth from heaven itself?!
Stu’s chequered past, both as a boxer and a member of a dysfunctional family, colluded to make his pursuit to join the ranks of the pristine Catholic establishment and its members, both controversial and complicated.
We seasoned filmgoers know this classic David vs Goliath scenario like the back of our fist. Against all odds, our protaganist will definitely make the cut by the end of the film. Why call the movie by that title if otherwise, right?
Plus, since we know this to be a true story, all we gotta do is fast forward our Netflix or Google-search for the answer.
Well, if you did, then you’ll know the second turning point of this film.
Our man develops a rare, incurable muscular disease called IBM or Inclusion Body Myositis.
Similar to ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, IBM gradually cripples one’s muscles to the point of death. The prospect for recovery was grim, for Stu was still considered young, yet he was stricken by a disease that typically happened to older people.
If this was Vegas, Stu was most certainly dealt a very bad hand!
From cripple to ordained priest
Come to think of it, things really do look bad for Stu. Especially when he was close to reaching his goal.
Bad enough he had a lousy childhood — lost a sibling, mistreated by alcholic dad, lived most of his life poor.
Bad enough he “lost” his girl despite pursuing her with dogged tenacity though they came from two different worlds.
And bad enough he had to battle the odds to qualify for ordinance as a full-fledged priest.
But now this, for a man who was a former boxer with above average build and muscularity?
Could Stu have heard his calling wrong?
So the rest of the film saw him oscillate between anger at the perceived treatment God dealt him, to him coming to terms with the fact. Stu eventually saw that this debilitating disease was in fact a gift that allowed him to draw closer to understanding Jesus Christ and His suffering while on earth.
And this insight strengthened his resolve to stay on in the seminary and strive towards the goal he had set for himself from the start.
By now, you can pretty much guess what happened. He made it. He got ordained.
Unfortunately, he also didn’t make it in the end.
Father Stuart Long passed away at the ripe young age of 50.
What I liked about this film
Honestly, I don’t think this film review flatters this movie much. Nor will the movie itself win many audiences.
After all, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of the acting, delivery, and pacing.
This is especially so when the cast includes Mark Wahlberg in the titular role, and Mel Gibson as his alcoholic dad. Both actors generally play he-man roles with more physical action than melodrama. And, no offence to them or their fans, both Mark and Mel never vary their looks for most of their films.
Now Father Stu does have the requisite critical crises generally hardwired into many films, like the two turning points I mentioned. Heartstring-tugging moments they were for sure. To wrench sympathy from audiences unfamiliar with this real life story.
However, the savvy, cynical film aficionados among us can also pretty much figure out the whole classic triumphing-over-the-odds tale.
In short, no surprise endings.
But what I liked about the film was precisely its predictability. I was watching it on a day when the last thing I wanted was a shocking ending or a twist to the plot. After a hard day at work, I just wanted to binge-watch something that allowed my brain to rest.
Yet it wasn’t even the predictability that was the selling point for me.
It was how two very different “miracles” — Stu’s road accident and disease — worked themselves out in the mundanity of Stu’s daily life.
Film review verdict? True miracles reside in daily mundanity
Those who’ve yet to watch this film but have come this far in my film review, are likely tempted not to watch it.
If so, then please know you’ll be missing what I call “true miracles in the daily mundane”.
You see, the thing with Father Stu is how the movie depicted his daily life. Despite being a man with a disease that rapidly “downsized” him every single day, he never once gave up on his calling or fall into despondence.
Whether it’s to travel to prisons to speak to convicts, or sitting in his rehab centre all day as people lined up round the building for confessionals with him, Stu never once complained. Not after he came to realise the profound gift he had from God. That his life was a testimony of strength and perseverance against the toughest of odds. Even when he knew his days were numbered.
We often think of miracles as grand events of the sort you read from say, the Bible. Noah building the great Ark. Moses parting the Red Sea. Jesus raising the dead.
Or, closer to our current times, the amazing rescue of the young Thai footbal team trapped in rapidly-flooding mountain caves. An event that riveted the attention of the world in 2018.
But true miracles are the ones that typically escape notice because they are actually stitched into the daily minutiae of life. Like finding my lost ATM card yesterday after a 20 minute search that felt like 20 years. Or seeing my son finally master cycling four months ago after seemingly-endless weeks of trying and failing.
And when these miracles happen, they can feel almost like non-events.
That’s what Father Stu and his final days faithfully serving his parishioners reminds me about daily miracles.
True miracles are never accompanied by pomp and circumstance.
True miracles are simply grafted into daily mundanity.
May this film review remind us to never be too busy to miss them!