Stuck In Love, the first feature from writer-director Josh Boone, is an ensemble drama that deals with multiple facets of romantic love, be it unrequited, first or long lost, in a smart, if clicked, way that weaves comfortably between three strong leads and the characters that surround and create their worlds.
We open with each protagonist offering a line that would work as the opening of their novels, and get a sense of each predicament, be it the introverted kid trying to break through school social structures, the college student looking for purely physical interactions to speed up life, or the aging individual spying on the relationship that replaced his in his lover’s life. From there, we mix between all three as the family interact with one another and head off into their own parts of the quiet seaside town the film takes place in and around.
Rusty’s story perhaps is the most top-heavy, as we follow him around most for the first half hour, wherein we see William’s depressed life post-divorce, a man who struggles now to even write anything, only help guide his children through their lives. Rusty is given a pep talk when William reads a journal entry, and realises that his son is floundering on the self-esteem front, and pushes Rusty to really give it his all if he wants to win over the girl, and thus a whole new series of life experiences begin for Rusty.
At the same time, Samantha announces that her first book is to be published, just not the one that William helped re-write, something new and entirely hers. She goes to celebrate, and finds herself stuck in a bar with a chatty writer, the polar opposite of her, Logan Lerman’s Lou. Lou wants to discuss, to connect on a human level, which freaks out Samantha, who finds romance difficult after her parents’ marriage fell apart, but the plunge turns out to be her next great story, and Lou becomes something of a guide for this next step in her life.
As we see the children succeed in various ways, William remains stuck between lamenting the destruction of his marriage and finding limited luxury in an affair with neighbour Tricia (Kristen Bell), which ultimately only gives him fleeting joy, not enough to start writing again. When he meets up with ex-wife Erica, and they discuss what happens, however, it seems like things begin to move a step in the right direction, and perhaps he can find his way out of the deep dark hole dug years ago.
Stuck In Love is satisfied with simply telling small stories at a small scale, a fleeting moment of strong drama, a few splatters of quirky characters, but it’s all very simplified, trimmed down and basic. That’s not to say the film isn’t good, it’s a decent piece of work, however the scope never quite matches the ensemble, and when the script resorts to using the writing profession as a half-meta half-metaphor for character creation and real life issues, it feels a tad obvious to move down a route that anyone can spot a mile off as another smart-alec writer’s tool to make characters say what they mean in various ways. The third act finds that moving a lot of Rusty’s action off-screen after Act One, and focusing more on Samantha and William, means that the emotional impact is lessened with his ultimate conclusion, whilst the other two storylines thus feel rushed through because they begin much later in the film, and fly through to their third acts without much of a break between them.
Directed with a subdued sense of style, the film looks great but never overshadows its performances, and despite a rather tatty script full of holes and plenty of cheese, Kinnear, Collins, Wollf, Lerman, Connelly and Bell are all very good, alongside a supporting cast which adds rather than detracts from the feature.
Stuck In Love takes time to find its footing, and its lack of clear focus and a strong through-line mean that the film meanders more than it sprints through an ensemble cast and story. The world isn’t quite realised, and the characters aren’t as strong as the performers deserve, but the quality of output on-screen aides this film to a level beyond that of the material. Stuck In Love turns out to be a decent film, a few nice jokes and humourous elements, some cliched but sweet thoughts on romance, love and humanity, and very nice to look at, just a shame it’s all so muddled and happy to settle for mediocrity.