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Stuck in Love

D: Josh Boone / 97m

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Lily Collins, Nat Wolff, Kristen Bell, Logan Lerman, Liana Liberato, Michael Goodwin

Three years after his wife, Erica (Connelly), left him, acclaimed writer William Borgens (Kinnear) is still convinced she will come back to him, even though she’s remarried. To make matters worse, he hasn’t written a word since Erica left. All he seems able to do is spy on his ex-wife in the hope he’ll see some evidence that her marriage isn’t working, and engage in casual sex with one of his neighbours, Tricia (Bell). The break-up has affected their children in different ways. Daughter Samantha (Collins) refuses to have anything to do with her mother and wants her father to move on with his life. Son Rusty (Wolff) still sees his mother and has no animosity toward her at all.

With William not writing anything, it comes as a surprise to learn that Samantha is about to have her first novel published. Both William and Rusty are initially frosty about the news, William because it’s not the same book he helped her with before, and Rusty because he’s struggling to find his own voice as a writer (he likes fantasy fiction and is a huge fan of Stephen King). With Samantha’s return home from college, the family dynamic alters considerably, with no doubts that her novel will be a success leading William and Rusty to question their roles as writers. For Rusty it means experiencing life more fully, leading him into a relationship with substance abuser Kate (Liberato). William tries to put the past behind him but without much success until Tricia tells him he shouldn’t be settling for the kind of relationship he has with her. Samantha, however, is fiercely opposed to getting close to anyone, as she fears the same thing happening to her as it did to her parents. Despite this, she meets and begins a relationship with Louis (Lerman).

As the various relationships deepen and become more serious, with unexpected consequences for all concerned, the Borgens, including Erica, find their family dynamic being tested at every turn.

Stuck in Love - scene

While it’s true that Stuck in Love is a little light on real drama, and the emotional crises the characters have to deal with are far from original, the movie is still a pleasure to watch, and is rewarding in many other ways. The chemistry between Kinnear and Connelly is affecting and effective in equal measure, with both actors playing off each other with practiced ease. There’s a scene where they meet at a shopping mall, and while the dialogue is mainly functional, the underlying charge given to their meeting is all down to how they look at each other, and their body language. Wolff shines too, imbuing Rusty with a restless, nervous energy that transforms over the course of the movie (from one Thanksgiving to the next) into a more relaxed, easily maintained confidence. As the initially self-repressed Samantha, Collins does well in a role that could have been more vapid than vital, and she copes equally well with the demands of being remote from her mother and fully engaged with her father. As the love interests, Bell is all business and tough love, Lerman is sweet but under-used, and Liberato shows promise as the wayward Kate.

The interaction between the characters is well handled, and thanks to first-time writer/director Boone, there aren’t any awkward moments where motivations can be questioned or behaviour impeached.  The family scenes feel natural, and if some viewers are put off by the idea of yet another slice of middle class neurotic navel-gazing, then that would be a shame, because Stuck in Love is sharp, observant, knowing, and above all, intelligent.  The comic elements fit comfortably alongside the dramatic elements, and the East Coast locations are a good fit for the story (as well as being beautifully photographed by DP Tim Orr).

Rating: 8/10 – a genuine pleasure to watch, with great performances enhancing an already great script; an indie movie with a warmth and a feel good factor all its own.