The movie we all need right now

Mark Wahlberg’s ‘Passion project’

It’s rare to see God at the box office. But the film Father Stu – about a boxer-turned-Catholic-priest – is drawing significant crowds and a lot of attention for a faith-based film.

So far the movie – featuring actors Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver – has grossed over $US14 million (about $A19.6 million) since its release in the US on April 13, 2022, during Holy Week (between Palm Sunday and Easter). And on May 12, Father Stu will be released in Aussie cinemas.

Father Stu is the brainchild of Mark Wahlberg himself. And it is for him what The Passion of the Christ was for Mel Gibson – a personal labour of love. Wahlberg poured “millions and millions” of his own dollars, as well as six years, into the making of Father Stu. Why? Because he felt called by God to make it.

“I’ve always been kind of thinking about: How do I continue to pay for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me?” Wahlberg, a devout Catholic, told National Catholic Register.

“I know God didn’t put me in this position to kind of forget about where I came from. I’ve been doing lots of stuff in my own community where I grew up and worked with inner-city kids and at-risk youth. But he doesn’t give you the gifts and the talents until it’s time to utilise [them] in the right way — and for him and not for yourself. So I’ve always been kind of saying, ‘Okay, what is my mission? What is my purpose?’ And planting the seed, letting it blossom, and then utilising that to continue to spread his word.”

Mark Wahlberg in ‘Father Stu’. ©2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

It was while having dinner with two priest friends that Wahlberg received his ‘divine purpose’. One of the priests pitched him an idea: to make a movie about the life of Stuart Long, an agnostic boxer in the 1980s who converted to Catholicism and eventually became a priest after nearly dying in a motorcycle accident. Despite a devastating health crisis and the scepticism of church officials and his estranged parents (Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver), Stu pursues his vocation with courage and compassion, inspiring many along the way.

It was a story that resonated with Wahlberg, who also was redeemed from his troubled past by focusing on his faith.

But getting the story to the screen was a fraught process. Wahlberg received several knockbacks from scriptwriters and production companies. So, as well as dipping into his own wallet, Wahlberg also turned to prayer.

“I prayed about it and prayed about it. And I said, ‘No, I have to do this. This is my calling. There’s a very specific reason why I’ve been called to do this,'” he told National Catholic Register.

Wahlberg also turned to fellow Catholic and film producer Mel Gibson: “I asked Mel if I could sit down with him and talk to him. I was picking his brain about how he got The Passion made and all the obstacles … all the obstacles that he had to face and why he was compelled to finance it himself and all of those things.”

“This movie can be an injection of hope and inspiration for the community.” – Rod Hopping, CEO of Heritage Films

One fan who is very pleased Wahlberg did manage to bring Father Stu into being is Rod Hopping, CEO of Heritage Films – the film distribution company that is partnering with Sony to bring the film to Australia. In fact, Hopping describes the film as “the movie we all need right now”.

“We’ve been in such a dark season. We’ve kind of wandered from a global pandemic to this looming presence of war … This movie doesn’t pull any punches as far as it talks about pain, suffering and loss. It’s very real and very raw at a number of levels. But what Father Stu does and how it inspired him to look to God and to help others is really, really inspirational,” Hopping tells Eternity.

“So this movie can be an injection of hope and inspiration for the community out there, and I think that’s needed right now.”

“You can’t help but think about God when you watch this movie.” – Rod Hopping

The film has drawn criticism in some church circles for the amount of swearing in the dialogue. But according to Hopping, this does not detract from the film, but rather, it might actually help get its message across to non-believers.

“Father Stu was not your average clergyman. He was rough around the edges. So this movie does have a lot of language in it,” Hopping admits.

“I know some people struggle with that, but I think that it creates authenticity in keeping Father Stu’s legacy alive. And I think that legacy is going to be attractive to people who have no faith, aren’t interested in faith, or think that faith is a lot of hogwash.

“You can’t help but think about God when you watch this movie – it’s just impossible … When you see his transformation and his journey, it prompts something deep in you to consider your own journey as well.”

Eternity has five double passes to see Father Stu to give away. ENTER HERE.