Stuck in Love (***½)


stuck_in_love_ver2For about half the running time of this romantic dramedy, you feel like you’re watching a more literary and less sitcom-like version of Crazy, Stupid, Love. (which isn’t bad, considering I like that film quite a bit), or at least a distant cousin of sorts. Then, things pick up into a different gear and Stuck in Love becomes something special. Writer/director Josh Boone shows a great deal of talent and establishes himself as a young filmmaker to be excited for. Armed with a great cast that includes Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins, Jennifer Connelly, and Logan Lerman to name just a few, Boone slowly unravels a story about life and love that managed to touch me deeply. Featuring a memorable soundtrack and the type of warmheartedness that too few films these days seek to include, I was easily won over by Stuck in Love (though its original title of Writers was a bit better, though both are fairly innocuous overall) and have a feeling that I won’t be the only one to feel this particular way. Though it’s not quite strong enough to become an awards player or anything like that, it is among the better films of the year so far and well worth taking a look at. This one comes highly recommended folks!

Set over the course of a year in a family’s life (we basically start and end at Thanksgiving), the film studies love in all of its complex forms through the vessel of a well regarded writer, his ex wife, and their teenaged children. William Borgens (Kinnear) is an acclaimed novelist still obsessing over his former spouse Emily (Connelly). It’s been three years since their divorce, but he’s not above spying on her and her new husband. He periodically fools around with a married neighbor Tricia (Kristen Bell), but he’s convinced that Emily is coming back. Tricia wants him to start dating, but William made a promise to Emily that he’d wait for her. Their daughter Samantha (Collins) is at college and getting her first novel published, one based on some rather liberal life experiences she’s been experimenting with. At the same time, their high school aged son Rusty (Nat Wolff) is looking to gain some life experiences of his own. While William is dealing with longing, Samantha struggles with the dogged pursuit of her by an actual nice guy in Lou (Lerman) and Rusty is seeing a crush on popular girl Kate (Liana Liberato) turn into a real relationship. The Borgens clan sees things both evolve and devolve over a twelve month period, leading to some great material for future pieces of literature by them all.

stuck-in-love-07_STUCK-IN-LOVE_Courtesy-of-Millennium-Entertainment_rgbThough I wouldn’t say there’s particularly an acting standout, the cast all does fine work. Greg Kinnear is kind of at the forefront of things and the technical lead, but he’s just another part of the ensemble. Kinnear is able to sell both the highfalutin nature of his parenting with his everyman quality dealing with love, no easy task. Both Lily Collins and Nat Wolff (the latter also contributes a song to the soundtrack) play quirky yet realistic teenagers with writing skills and a need to make changes in their lives. Logan Lerman gives welcome depth to what could have been a generic nice guy role, while Liana Liberato shows that her stunning work in Trust wasn’t a fluke a few years ago. Jennifer Connelly is underused and Kristen Bell more or less is forgotten about during the final act, but it makes sense for the way the story is progressing. Supporting players here include Spencer Breslin and Patrick Schwarzenegger, but the aforementioned ensemble all pull their weight and make these characters ones worth caring about. They’re all just as good as you’d hope.

Despite being rather new on the scene, Josh Boone makes quite the impression here with his writing and directing. The filmmaker never seeks to call attention to himself, but merely came up with a story he cared about and managed to tell it in a lovely way. Boone’s direction is quiet and he has a sense of pacing that is terrific, while his writing is top notch, showing unexpected layers the longer the film goes on. This is the type of screenplay that could come off as either too downbeat or too cute, but Boone threads the needle quite well here. By the time certain second half events that are 100% expected begin to occur, you’re wrapped up in the story enough that some of them initially even seem like a surprise. If there’s a complaint I have about the material, it’s simply that I wish a few of the secondary characters got a proper sendoff during the final scenes, though I fully understand why they were treated like they were. I just wanted to spend more time with them. Still, this is great work by Boone, slowly revealing to us a story that’s deeper and more meaningful than you’d expect it to be at the outset.

Within the first half hour I was won over by Stuck in Love, but somehow the movie just kept getting better. By the time that the credits rolled I was stunned with how much I liked it. Josh Boone is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on…and lucky for us he has a potential awards vehicle next year in the film The Fault in Our Stars. Time will tell if that one is as good as this one is, but I really am quite smitten with this flick. I highly recommend this film to you all, especially if you’re searching for independent alternatives to the underwhelming crop of summer releases that the big studios are putting out right now. This is very much a breath of fresh air…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!