You don’t typically expect an Easter movie to come with a healthy helping of F-bombs or multiple arrest scenes. The newest film from Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson, however, isn’t interested in the saccharine, inauthentic depictions of faith that audiences are typically served on screens — big and small — this time of year. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, the R-rated “Father Stu,” which hits theaters on April 13, isn’t a movie where God shows his favor by allowing protagonists with cute, inoffensive sins to win the big game or achieve fame and fortune.
Here, hard men learn obedience through hard suffering.
This true story centers on Stuart Long (Wahlberg), a young man following in the loose-living footsteps of his father, Bill (Gibson). A heavy drinker like his dad, Stu tries his hand at a number of careers, including boxing and acting, in between DUIs. He only ends up at mass because he follows a pretty girl he hopes to bed through the church doors.
While Stu may only study his catechism and get baptized as part of a scheme to seduce the object of his affection, her devotion to Christ can’t help but rub off on him. After surviving a near-fatal motorcycle accident, he realizes God has placed a special call on his life — one that will prove transformational to his dad as well.
The movie provides an especially apt role for the Catholic Gibson — a filmmaker beloved by Christians worldwide for his magnum opus, “The Passion of the Christ,” but on the outs with his industry for a drunken tirade that included racial slurs. Gibson apologized for his antisemitic remarks and has, on occasion, expressed shame for several alcohol-fueled scandals that erupted after his split from his first wife, Robyn Gibson, to whom he was married for nearly 30 years.
After an ex-girlfriend leaked a recording of Gibson berating her, he was reportedly blacklisted by big Hollywood for nearly a decade until A-lister Robert Downey Jr., himself once an un-hireable outcast, pleaded with the industry to forgive him. “Nobody should make a case for somebody who just wants forgiveness but hasn’t changed, but he’s a fundamentally different guy,” the “Iron Man” star, who had previously revealed that Gibson counseled him through his own battle with addiction, said in an interview with Deadline. “I think it was just the very worst aspects of somebody’s psyche being treated as though they were the blanket statement about a person…[Gibson] really, honestly is the first to admit his character defects,” Downey added.
That seemed to pave the way for tentative studio acceptance of the man whose lifetime box office earnings total more than $4 billion. Still, every film the “Braveheart” actor has released since then has come with a flurry of why-is-Mel-Gibson-allowed-to-work-again think pieces. Even though he’s been creating art without incident for more than ten years now, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Variety, and Rolling Stone have all released op-eds in recent months suggesting (or outright demanding) that the Oscar winner shouldn’t be allowed to evade cancellation just because his sins were committed before cancel culture was a thing.
Modern Hollywood is not a town that believes in redemption.
Perhaps that’s why Gibson — once known for his freewheeling, mischievous press conferences, punctuated by loud brays of laughter — seems far more guarded in interviews these days. He knows that many in entertainment media are hoping for a verbal slip or a moment in which his words lack perfect propriety that they can use against him.
During our chat about “Father Stu,” he begins with something of a wary, hunted look. Yet, when I ask him about depictions of faith on the big screen (something he’s arguably the world’s expert in, having co-written and directed the highest-grossing religious film of all-time), his demeanor relaxes measurably.
“I think there’s a kind of a tendency in most faith-based films to preach to the choir,” he says when I ask why so few on-screen Christians feel relatable to viewers. “They keep things pretty sanitized. And that’s not who we are. I mean, hey, we’re here because we’re a bunch of sinners, right? So this film shows you that. It shows that you can come from the depths of all human weakness and kind of be better than that.”
Gibson has similar thoughts on how “Father Stu” offers a subtle rebuke to the prosperity gospel that infects so many American churches these days — where material wealth is viewed as evidence of God’s blessing and difficulties are taken as a Heavenly lack of favor. Stu Long’s life, Gibson points out, evinces the much more biblical model of enduring earthly sorrow with an eye to eternal reward.
“He sort of thanks God for his suffering,” Gibson explains about the character. “He’s not praying for an easy life, just the grace to live faithfully through a difficult one … We don’t necessarily win in this life. That’s not what it’s about.” The actor pauses for a moment to reflect, then offers the most extended answer of our brief interview — one that leaves me wondering if he’s still talking about Stu Long or himself.
“Every one of us has got a boulder that we’re dragging around somewhere,” he says. “We’re all gonna get knocked over. We’ve all got a burden that we have to go through, some more than others, you know? And [Stu Long] had a heavy one. But, man, he was an example of how to triumph over that and weave gold out of it. He’s a man who had all the venal qualities that most men have, and you get to see what he learned about humility. I think, you know, he goes from being prideful to being humbled.”
There’s a certain earnestness in Gibson’s words that reminds you why “The Passion of the Christ” was not just the number one religious movie in history, but also the number one R-rated film. Both the venal and the spiritual mix strangely in Gibson, too. The smoker’s rasp in his voice catches a bit when talks of heavenly things like grace and redemption.
“We’re looking for a chance. We’re looking for a shot, you know?” he says. “We’re looking for a way to win the crown.”
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.