He can’t write off his past
Stuck in Love, about a family of novelists, has one of those instantly forgettable titles that in few months time will get lost within the humdrum of the romantic genre. Writers was the original title, and while usually the title doesn’t impact the strength of a film, it can create and establish a certain mood. The campy title that first-time director-writer Josh Boone chose instead is more reflective of his eldest characters, describing not the vocation they embody and more the transient state of emotion that lingers throughout their nostalgic and self-pitying lives. Stuck in Love therefore is too exclusive of a title because not everyone is in fact in love. They do seem stuck somewhere, though, in their habits, their doubts, and their fears.
I would’ve suggested Writer’s Block, but clearly “love” is, or at least tries to be, a central theme in this film. The only problem is that it shares that word, its storyline, and its characters with those in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid Love. In that film Julianne Moore battles over a divorce with Steve Carrell who seeks new dating help from a studly Ryan Gosling and whose kids, Emma Stone and Jonah Bobo, find their own romantic challenges. In this version, Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly play the parts of the separated couple, Kristen Bell substitutes for Gosling as both a sex partner and stylish motivator, and Lily Collins and Nat Wolff respectively adopt the roles of struggling siblings with contrarian beliefs on relationships.
It’s not the near carbon copy I might be suggesting, but the blueprint is there. Kinnear plays Will, a well-known novelist living off the fame of his first hit and bachelor living at his beach house. He can’t however get over his ex-wife Erica (Connelly) or her new fling, constantly peeping into her windows in progressively more desperate states. Reasons for their separation are alluded to in vague stories about adultery, and, as we eventually see, Will’s oblivious state of authority. He forced his son Rusty (Wolff) and daughter Samantha (Collins) to keep journals everyday, preconditioning their future careers. So far they haven’t dissented!
In fact at Thanksgiving, Samantha back home from college, bursts out news about her new book being published. It’s a mixture of her experiences and strong theories on the realities of sex and relationships, in tune with her promiscuous and very cynically charged nature. Rusty is still in high school, writing sci-fi fantasy and poetry, and stealing the heart of his crush played by Liana Liberato, who has her own personal troubles. He plays the hopeless romantic, inexperienced and in temporary love, condescended by big sis for his puppy-eyed gaze. It takes some brave charm by Logan Lerman to lure her from her disenchanted worldview, and offers sweetness to her icy façade.
Boone weaves the triumvirate of love stories without a judging tone, utilizing indie hallmarks with musical flavorings from Bon Iver and Edward Sharpe in a nondescript North Carolina town. Potentially darker material is available for him to delve into- a cold mother-daughter relationship, a drug issue, a father’s crippling nostalgia- but those precarious cracks are washed with a hopeful, if not naïve glaze.
What’s more at play are the connective tissues of a family in transition, a family whose only real problems are dealing with the opposite sex. You begin to realize why the title was changed because for the family’s passion for writing, the film isn’t necessarily interested in letting us be witnesses to their insular, inspiration problems. But taking that route means Boone gets to utilize his diverse cast. Bell adds punches of humor having casual sex with Will, and Kinnear and Connelly give some of their more trenchant performances playing emotionally locked characters, afraid to turn a new page- a writer’s pun of which they’d approve.
Ultimately, Stuck in Love finds its way into a tidy and convenient final act that ends in the same room and time in which it began. It’s served with an extra dose of schmaltz, both savory and sweet, and even a Stephen King cameo. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise though with this title. A valiant effort, but hopefully Boone’s next film is actually Writers.