Judge Michael Nazarewycz wonders when love got so sticky.
A story about first loves and second chances.
I've always held that movies about writers have the unavoidable potential to be more boring than other films. Even a film about someone in another profession needs a little jolt of excitement, and their profession can't be put on display. Cops can chase crooks, soldiers can diffuse mines, even dancers can dance. If a film about a writer slows down, you can't smash-cut to a writer typing. As such, films about writers need to bring a little something extra to keep the viewer engaged. Fortunately, first-time writer/director Josh Boone's Stuck In Love does that.
Facts of the Case
Bill Borgens (Greg Kinnear, Little Miss Sunshine) is a successful author and father of two teenagers. His older child, daughter Samantha (Lily Collins, The Blind Side), has just signed her first book deal. His son, Rusty (Nat Wolff, New Year's Eve), is still in high school but dreams of having writing success like his father (and now his sister). Each of these three also has drama in the relationship department.
Rusty has a new girlfriend, Kate (Liana Liberato, Erased), who suffers from substance abuse problems. Samantha, whose dating pattern consists of meaningless hookups (in the guise of feminine empowerment), finds herself falling for Louis (Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), someone who couldn't be further from her usual one-night-stand candidates, but it's Bill who wins the dysfunctional prize.
In addition to carrying a torch for his ex-wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind)—so much so that he peeps in her windows to see how her current relationship is holding up and sets a place for her at Thanksgiving even though she's not coming—he is involved in a purely sexual relationship with his married neighbor, Tricia (Kristen Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall).
The intra-familial relationships also on display. Bill is one of those dads who isn't overbearing per se (he's actually pretty cool), but it's not by accident that both of his children are writers. Erica and Samantha have been estranged for more than a year, and the former wants desperately to reconnect while the latter could not care less. Samantha holds a grudge against her mother for cheating on, and leaving, her father.
These husbands, wives, sons, daughters, lovers, and friends must navigate love's unpredictable waters while simultaneously keeping their fractured family as together as it can be.
When you first look at the film's characters, Stuck In Love feels like one of those rom-drams that is constructed via an a la carte menu:
• Character: Successful patriarch
• Character: Overachieving daughter of successful patriarch
You get the point. Each of the six major characters isn't created so much as assembled this way, which puts 100% of the onus on the actors to take those prefabricated components and turn them into believable people. All six actors accomplish this, and the leader of that group is Lily Collins.
The Samantha character is not overly complex, but she is far from being simply defensive. The walls she has built around herself (see "Flaw" above) have openings through which she can take aim and fire towards those who approaches her. It's more than "Don't get near me," it's "Get the hell away." Collins is remarkably convincing in this capacity—so much so that I found myself loathing her character. That's what an actor should do, and she does it.
Everyone else in the cast does an excellent job assembling their characters, integrating them into the story, and interacting with everyone else. In fact, the ensemble is so good, Stuck In Love could have made a fantastic stage production. I'm reluctant to rank the cast beyond Collins, but I'll say this: when Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly is sixth on your bench, you have a deep bench.
The actors aren't improvising, of course. While Boone's story—or rather, the characters' collective stories—is nothing new, the dialogue is fresh, and it gives that talented cast the confidence it needs to deliver the goods.
There are no issues with the look of the DVD transfer. All images across the various settings and times of day are perfectly fine. The film is dialogue-heavy (as writers are wont to be), and the Dolby 5.1 presents even, crisp sound throughout. (NOTE: This film is also available on Blu-ray, which was not available for review.)
Two extras accompany this DVD. The first is a 28-minute making-of. It features most of the primary cast as well as writer/director Boone and producer Judy Cairo (Crazy Heart) in a collection of single-camera interviews. Some offer their summaries of the story (which becomes repetitive quickly), while others offer why they were drawn to the film. A lot of mutual admiration takes place as well, and at least one star says, "I know everyone says this, but…" Boone does offer a very nice anecdote about his childhood connection to Stephen King, who appears as himself in the film. Well, at least his voice does. The other extra is a commentary track with Boone and star Nat Wolff, recounting details and anecdotes of the shoot that are more an extension of the making-of.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A glaring flaw in the film is Kristen Bell's character (Bell herself mails it in, but she is given nothing to work with). The character serves two purposes. First, she is paraded around as eye candy—the sporty, athletic type, but eye candy nonetheless. It's as if Boone feels compelled to tart up the film a little bit because for some reason it simply can't survive with three beautiful, sensitive women starring in it—it somehow needs to meet an objectification quota. Second, the character's existence, in the context of being Bill's lover, suggests that Boone isn't confident enough to have his primary male protagonist be vulnerable. For some reason, this man who pines for a love lost isn't really a man unless he fits society's definition of how manhood is achieved; in this case, having unattached sex with a much younger woman.
It's the actors who not only make Stuck In Love, but save it from becoming just another rom-dram wannabe.
So it is written. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
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