Mark Wahlberg’s passion project hasn’t lit a fire under moviegoers.
“Father Stu,” based on a touching true story, grossed $6 million over the holiday weekend, bringing its total to date to $8.5 million. The film debuted behind “Sonic the Hedgehog 2”, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”, “The Lost City”, and “Everything Everywhere All at Once”.
This is after Wahlberg and his co-star Mel Gibson made the rounds in the media promoting the film during a very holy time of year for Christians.
This group, which rarely receives mainstream films aimed at them, did not show up en masse. Did they miss a movie designed to talk about their beliefs? Or are other factors at play?
Jacob Airey, pop culture scholar and founder of StudioJakeMedia.comsays the fiim’s release timing, which looked strong on paper, may have worked against it.
“Christians generally steer clear of the movies during the holidays,” says Airey, a Christian pop culture watcher and author of the fantasy series “The Seven Royals.”
Christians often judge “Christian” films more harshly than other titles, he adds.
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movie blogger Sarah Hargett says the film’s modest start could convince Sony and other studios to avoid similar pricing. The fact that “Father Stu” exists, however, came down to Wahlberg’s commitment to the material.
The Oscar nominee poured some of his own money into the project.
“He had a passion for a story that maybe wasn’t marketable to begin with, but he wanted to tell it, so he did it,” Hargett says, adding that it can be the difference between an informed story and a time it stays in limbo. “In that sense, no, I think filmmakers who find a story they love and want to tell won’t be deterred by the thought that it might not be a box office hit.”
Conservatives and Christians deplore the lack of content intended for their respective communities. On this level, “Father Stu” looks like a missed opportunity, at least looking at the bottom line.
Hargett is not convinced.
“Within my personal community of believers and conservatives, there is no interest in films that meet our beliefs. What I see are people who just want to see good films – films shrewd — that aren’t tainted by Hollywood’s woke agenda,” she says. “I prefer to see movies with no agenda at all.
“Father Stu,” she adds, has missed what audiences are looking for in the modern market.
Freelance journalist Josh M. Shepherd, who covers faith and family entertainment for The Federalist, didn’t consider those box office numbers low given current trends. The film’s R rating, however, clearly kept some Christians at home.
“I have spoken to many people in the Bible Belt who have not recommended ‘Father Stu’ due to the amount of foul language in it,” Shepherd says. The film adopted this note to capture Stuart Long’s transformation from not doing well to cloth man.
“Christians tend to watch R-rated movies in private. They don’t want to publicly support a movie that of course contains foul language etc., even if the story is one that has their values in theory,” Airey says.
Shepherd notes that “Father Stu” debuted with two strikes against him – the mature note and Gibson’s personal baggage. The ‘Road Warrior’ star’s personal meltdowns linked to these anti-Semitic rants from 2006.
Some audiences will never forgive Gibson for those moments, even as Hollywood slowly accepted him into their community.
The future could be brighter for the movie once it leaves theaters for good, predicts Shepherd.
“‘Father Stu’ will do very well when it lands on Netflix later this year, no doubt,” he says.