‘Father Stu’: Mark Wahlberg’s biopic Priest reaches number 1 on Netflix

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Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in Columbia Pictures’ FATHER STU. PHOTO BY: Karen Ballard/© 2022 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.

When it hits theaters on April 13, Father Stu – starring Catholic rapper-turned-actor/producer Mark Wahlberg as boxer-turned-priest Father Stuart Long – broke no box office records. But, now on Netflix, it’s zoomed straight up.

I settled in last night to watch the first episode of the new season of The great British pastry fairand I was pleasantly surprised to see the following image on my screen:

Netflix home screen image
Screenshot/Netflix

So what happened to Father Stu at the box office?

I was a fan of the film when it first came out, writing:

There are curses, battles, fierce conflict and sin, but there is also truth, beauty, grace and redemption. It may shave off several years and compress the story of how former non-religious boxer, bouncer, and badass Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) became Father Stu, only to die young of a progressive muscle disorder, but he retains the central message of his life:

The world is a hard place, suffering has value and can be redemptive, and God does not just lay his hand on the stakes.

But, what I heard from viewers is that the foul language turned many off. Some women I know thought it was too much of a “guy movie”.

Promote Father Stu to the usual Christian audience of evangelical mega-churches was probably a total waste of time. First of all, few of them would be interested in the story of a Catholic conversion resulting in a priestly ordination. And second, this audience is notoriously averse to foul language.

Case in point: Despite all the violence and gore in director Mel Gibson’s World War II drama hacksaw creststarring Andrew Garfield as a devout Seventh-day Adventist war hero – all f-bombs have been carefully removed…as the organizers pointedly mentioned during a special screening of religious leaders.

Father Stu was also heavily promoted to the Catholic public, through the usual faith-based media. But, many Catholics no longer read them, and those who do are likely the same kind of people who would also object to the language and other adult content.

But the film generated a lot of chatter in the media. And, Mark Wahlberg has a sizable following, including for original movies made for Netflix, like the recent comedy Me time.

But streaming is a different world

Now available as part of a Netflix subscription, Father Stu (which can be rented or purchased digitally on Amazon and other platforms, and on DVD/Blu-ray) may have finally found its audience.

Who is this audience? Netflix won’t tell, but I think it’s made up of Catholics (both Orthodox and cafeteria-type), curious about Catholicism, Mark Wahlberg fans, Mel Gibson fans (he plays father’s father Stu and his current partner, Rosalind Ross, writes and directs); and those who knew Father Stu during his lives in Montana and Los Angeles.

There may even be other Christians or even people of other denominations or of no denomination, who have heard of the film but did not feel comfortable or motivated to go to the theater or pay to rent or watch it. ‘buy online.

Apparently all these people are enough to make Father Stu number 1 on Netflix.

Finally, Wahlberg finds the success he was looking for

That must sound like vindication for Wahlberg, who has come through her own bumpy path — including run-ins with the law, a stint in prison, and a career as a rapper and underwear model — on her way to the Church.

He also took 30 pounds and dug into his own pocket to make this movie a reality.

In a video interview I did with Wahlberg, he said:

“I did some action. I did theatre. I did comedy. I’ve always been drawn to true stories and biopics, but I think so, I hope this will be the first of many successful religious films with mainstream audiences with major studios.

“So my plan is to create a lot more religious content, both film and television, long form, short form and hopefully stu will be the first of a long series.

Who was the real father Stu?

Click here to see a story I wrote in which a priest and a bishop talk about Father Stuart Long whom they knew and admired. Bishop George Thomas, who ordained Stu when he suffered from a rare and debilitating autoimmune disease, said:

“So my struggle was whether or not I would call him to holy orders, for several reasons. The first is, of course, that he would have a very short active priesthood; there are huge costs associated with this kind of care, a lot of question marks.

“But I continued to be moved by the Holy Spirit, pushing Holy Orders forward. And in my opinion, there is a lot of power in redemptive suffering, and that’s exactly how he lived.

“His priesthood lasted about six years in all, and he was incredibly effective during those years. And things like, I was going to visit him at the drug rehabilitation center, which was actually a rest and drug rehabilitation home. And it wouldn’t be unusual to have six, eight or 10 people lined up outside your room waiting to go to confession.

And the Montana priest, Father Sean Raftis, who went to Father Stu for confession, said:

“He looked a lot like Christ. It was great, because he was a high priest, but he was like an old shoe, in a way. He could talk to anyone. He was just a very charismatic man. He just attracted so many people to him. And that was very interesting, because the time he attracted so many people to him was when he was in the most pain.

Father Stu’s real story wasn’t one of overnight success, and it looks like the movie Father Stu might have stumbled through the door, but eventually found his feet.

Here is the full interview with Wahlberg:

And the original movie trailer:

Image: Karen Ballard/© 2022 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.

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