Stuck in Love (2012) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for language, teen drug and alcohol use, and some sexual content
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Lily Collins, Nat Wolff, Logan Lerman, Liana Liberato, Kristen Bell
Cameo: Stephen King (voice)
Director: Josh Boone
Screenplay: Josh Boone
Review published June 7, 2014
Stuck in Love represents the debut effort from writer-director John Boone (The Fault in Our Stars), and while it is an uneven experience quite common for first-time works, there's definitely enough talent on display to suggest he has a future once he can capture the emotion of the page and translate it to the silver screen.
Greg Kinnear (Ghost Town, Baby Mama) stars as a famous novelist named William Borgens, whose notoriety in the literary world still persists despite not having been able to do anything more in the writing arena in the three years since the ex-wife he still yearns for, Erica (Connelly, 9), walked out the door. That act is something that adult daughter Samantha (Collins, Mirror Mirror), who is on the verge of becoming a published author herself, can't forgive her mother for, to the point where she can't even fathom entering into a relationship herself, knowing how it ripped her family apart. On the opposite end, sheltered son Rusty (Wolff, Palo Alto), a burgeoning writer himself, has been dabbling in poetry pining over Kate (Liberato, Erased), a classmate that he has put high up on a pedestal, not knowing that she is a drug addict whose life is barely holding together.
The film spans the course of an entire year, starting off with Thanksgiving in which the kids are there, but the table setting for the mother is set but never filled. There are lots of little narrative embellishments like that that sometimes feel forced, but Boone has a fantastic cast of attractive and capable actors to work with, who manage to flesh out their characters in nuanced ways that create some pretty good individual scenes. Connelly is especially good here in a smaller role, and kudos to the casting of her and Collins as mother and daughter -- one of the most believable pairings among two non-related stars you'll likely see.
One interesting thing about the film is in seeing how these writers, who are, by occupation, inventing things on the page, are always inventing things in their own mind about their own lives. William still invents scenarios in which he can continue to get Erica back. Samantha has taken the liberty to construct all of the reasons to hate her mother without knowing the full story. Rusty has invented a version of Kate before he has even met her that has little to do with the grim reality. In all of these scenarios, their writing fills them with a sense of fulfillment, but their sense of contentment seems ever more elusive until they are finally confronted by knowing the reality of each situation and then moving on from there.
While that's a subtle theme worth exploring, the drama in this film is heavily manufactured for big dramatic moments. It's the kind of movie where books get published and celebrated, people spy on exes and get chased by dogs, people die of brain tumors, kids get chased around stores and beaten up, coke gets snorted, drug addicts go AWOL, noses get broken and people get punched and kicked with little legitimate provocation. Every time you think you're going to settle in to a nice family drama, out comes another movie-of-the-week melodrama that reminds you that you're watching a movie and not someone's real life.
It's a borderline call for a movie that skirts the line between being decent and overbearing, but in the end, I do feel like the actors are able to make it worthwhile. While Stuck in Love feels a bit too artificial in tone and delivery to buy fully into, there are enough smaller moments where things ring at least semi-true to make it worthwhile viewing for lovers of dramas about dysfunctional families trying to put the pieces of a messy divorce back together again. It's an independent film, but with big-name actors and a high-gloss sheen to it that feels very much like a Hollywood production. It's not a masterpiece that will give Josh Boone the kind of reputation he can coast on the rest of his days, but it is a promising first effort that could eventually result in better work down the road once he has a more experienced hand.
©2014 Vince Leo