Phoenix Film Festival: ‘Stuck in Love’ a low-key romantic dramedy content to be generic

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Stuck_in_Love posterStuck in Love

Directed by Josh Boone

Written by Josh Boone

USA, 2012

Life would be so much easier if it played out as it does in wish-fulfillment fantasies like Stuck in Love, but because life is difficult, it makes this film feel especially alien. This is a cookie-cutter world, where all the houses are expansive, open, clean, and have a hell of a view; where the only conflicts arise are those that get resolved without much in the way of obstacles; and where all of the participants are attractive and well-dressed enough that they may as well be modeling for the Sears catalog. Stuck in Love is, if nothing else, well-cast, but it’s so aggressively low-key that it never makes much of an impact.

Set mostly around the holidays, Stuck in Love stars Greg Kinnear as Bill Borgens, a well-respected novelist who’s won multiple prestigious awards, a descriptor that is almost said verbatim to him at one point by his 19-year old daughter, Samantha, in a particularly clunky bit of exposition. Samantha, portrayed by Lily Collins, has just sold her first novel, echoing her cynical worldview on love and romance, framed as such because her mother (Jennifer Connelly) left Bill a few years ago for a younger, more attractive man. Samantha’s unwillingness to be wooed is thrown in sharp relief by Lou (Logan Lerman), a fellow writer and student. Meanwhile, Bill’s son Rusty (Nat Wolff) finds himself in a relationship with a beautiful but deeply troubled young woman that, if nothing else, serves to give him a life experience to inspire his own writing.

Stuck-in-Love-kinnear

Yes, Stuck in Love is a movie about writing and writers, yet it is a movie that goes to great lengths to make us unsure about exactly how talented its trio of leads are, or how open-minded they are about literature outside of their comfort zone. (An early scene where Samantha scoffs at the idea of graphic novels being included in the medium is especially tone-deaf.) The prose and poetry the characters write is, save one instance, never read aloud or directly referred to. We presume these characters are good writers because they’re successful; a 19-year old selling a novel, and without any influence from her novelist dad, must be good at her craft, right? It’s more than a touch ironic that Bill references, more than once, the seminal Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” seeing as we are meant to figure out what the characters in Stuck in Love are talking about when they talk about writing, because it’s certainly not that.

The roadblocks that writer-director Josh Boone creates here are similarly low-stakes; his script is content to barely rouse itself out of a lulling stupor. Rusty has fallen hard for the quiet, pretty girl in his class, but despite her relationship with a brainless hunk, they’re together well before the first 30 minutes have elapsed. Bill’s hang-up with his ex-wife is the true undercurrent of Stuck in Love and, weirdly, treated for laughs; it’s only so funny when one character stalks another, even if the second character is fully aware of what’s going on. Bill may mean well, but his fixation with his ex only makes sense in that she’s played by Jennifer Connelly, not based on any sizzling chemistry between she and Kinnear, or any well-developed backstory of their marriage and why Bill’s ex chose to hook up with someone younger. So we can only relate to Samantha, who’s so virulently against her mother for having left her father, so much. We end up asking the same question of Lou that we do of Bill: what does a person see in someone who so roundly mocks their existence, even if to hide their own insecurities?

stuck in love lerman collins

Stuck in Love, if nothing else, boasts an overqualified cast, from Kinnear and Connelly to Lerman, Wolff and Kristen Bell in a glorified cameo appearance, that at least makes this film agreeable, though forgettable. But the fantasy world they inhabit becomes more difficult to swallow, the best example being Rusty’s fixation with a well-known horror novelist culminating in a truly ridiculous deus ex machina. The third act as a whole feels rushed, as if Boone didn’t write an original script, but condensed a long novel or an entire season of a slightly risque ABC Family dramedy into a 96-minute movie. But Stuck in Love is too generic to be totally bothersome; it’s content to be slight and shrugworthy, and achieves those ambitions almost instantly.

— Josh Spiegel

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