Thursday, February 27, 2014

Love Actually With Half The Charm, Cast, And Great Moments: Stuck In Love

The Good: Acting, Some good lines
The Bad: Very predictable plot and character arcs.
The Basics: Stuck In Love is an erratic romantic dramedy that has a family of writers and artists struggling to make sense of their lives after a divorce.

There are a number of different types of romantic comedies. I think the best ones tend to be romantic dramas, the dramedies with great lines, wonderful performances and interesting characters. I’m sure every writer aspires to create the next When Harry Met Sally . . . (reviewed here!) or Love Actually (reviewed here!), but in the world after the greats are written, it’s tough to make the next great romantic movie. Josh Boone’s attempt is Stuck In Love. Stuck In Love is more analogous to The Squid And The Whale (reviewed here!) than Love Actually.

To cut to the chase and eliminate all comparisons, Stuck In Love is a romantic dramedy that is plagued by being erratic and predictable. The film has some incredible highs which are muted by obvious seeding foreshadow elements that lead to the most predictable possible payoffs. The result is a film that is worth watching for about five truly incredible lines and character moments. They are, fortunately, spread out enough to not make the rest of the film entirely miserable, but Stuck In Love is not a satisfying film experience.

Bill Borgens, who is still obsessed with his ex-wife, gets together with his two children for Thanksgiving. His daughter, Sam, tells him that her novel is being published and Bill is upset when it is not the book that he helped her edit. Bill’s son, Rusty, is obsessed with a cute girl in his class, Kate. He spends Thanksgiving stoned, jealous of his sister and returns to school where he reads a poem in front of class that is obliquely about Kate, getting her attention. Rusty is also the only member of the family to visit Erica, Bill’s ex-wife, on Thanksgiving, but it is very awkward. Responding to his father’s advice, he pursues Kate to a party with a big bag of weed and discovers Kate is using coke. Rescuing her from her abusive boyfriend, they flee the party.

Over the course of the year that follows, the Borgens wrestle with the emotional issues that have plagued them since Bill and Erica divorced. Bill works to give up stalking Erica and his fuckbuddy Tricia helps get him registered on singles sites to get him dating again. Still, he clings to the hope of Erica returning. The jaded Samantha develops her first romantic relationship, with Louis. While Samantha steps out of her father’s literary shadow, she and Louis actually fall for one another. At the same time, Rusty works to be a good guy in Kate’s life to help her get off drugs. Events climax at Sam’s book release party when Kate gets champagne and falls off the wagon, sending the Borgens into a tailspin to find her . . . coming together in the process.

The revelation of why Bill is still obsessed with Erica is a remarkably satisfying moment in the film, but it comes almost too late for the viewer to care about or actually believe it. It is very hard to suspend one’s disbelief for a guy who claims to be still in love with his ex-wife, waiting for her to come back because his love and conviction are so strong, yet has casual (and athletic) sex with the neighbor down the street. Stuck In Love feels like a movie trimmed down for time; one line between Bill and Sam serves as the exit of Tricia from the narrative and the disappearance of Kristen Bell’s character from the story is somewhat abrupt. As one who has been rewatching Veronica Mars (reviewed here!), it’s hard not to see Bell’s Tricia as an unremarkable role for Bell, but how little she is in Stuck In Love makes one wish Josh Boone had found more to do with the character and actress.

In a similar way, the film’s resolution is entirely unsatisfying and completely undermines the relationship Erica and her husband, Martin, have. While audiences might cheer for the “happy” ending, to accept it, one has to completely neglect the idea that Erica has had a life of her own outside Bill and her children.

Greg Kinnear gives a solid, but familiar, performance as Bill Borgens. Jennifer Connelly, like Kristen Bell, is underused as Erica. Stuck In Love makes better use of its young cast. Lily Collins is unlike she has been in anything else in which I’ve seen her as the brassy, disillusioned Samantha. She and Logan Lerman have good on-screen chemistry and Collins sells Sam’s change of heart when her character starts looking for the classmate she never noticed before. Despite being cast to look a bit too much like Lerman’s character, Nat Wolff is decent as Rusty. Rusty is a somewhat understated role, but Wolff does well with it, with a casual body language that makes it realistic that a sensitive guy would take to heart his father’s advice to go out and live.

Ultimately, Stuck In Love is underwhelming with moments the viewer is likely to truly enjoy. The result is a movie worth watching, perhaps, once, but not much more than that.

For other works with Lily Collins, please visit my reviews of:
The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones
Mirror Mirror
The Blind Side


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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