Bookended by two very different Thanksgiving celebrations, Stuck In Love is a smartly scripted, semi-autobiographical dramedy about the aftermath of divorce on a wealthy family.
Or at least that is first-time writer-director Josh Boone’s heartfelt intention.
While Boone certainly has an acute ear for snappy dialogue and sketches his flawed characters with affection, he is reluctant to put the family members through the emotional wringer. None of them has to suffer in their pursuit of happiness.Success is handed to them on a plate, and past mistakes are forgiven in the blink of an eye to a soundtrack of introspection courtesy of American singer-songwriters like Elliott Smith, Conor Oberst and Bill Ricchini.
The beautifully tailored home-wrecker is Erica Borgens (Jennifer Connelly), who leaves her novelist husband Bill (Greg Kinnear) for a younger man (Rusty Joiner), creating a rift between the mother and daughter Sam (Lily Collins), who refuses any contact. Hopelessly romantic 16-year-old son Rusty (Nat Wolff) is more forgiving, and joins his father in setting a place for Erica at the Thanksgiving table, in the hope that she might return to their loving embrace one year.
Winter turns to spring and three years after the acrimonious break-up, Bill still pines for Erica. He spies on his ex-wife and her beau, obsessing over their relationship rather than expending his time on a new book.
Having seen how much true love scarred her father, Sam ricochets between meaningless one-night stands rather than allowing anyone to touch her heart. She threatens to drive away handsome classmate Lou (Logan Lerman).
Meanwhile, Rusty pursues a tempestuous first romance with bad girl Kate (Liana Liberato).
Stuck In Love is blessed with an excellent cast, who wear their hearts on their sleeves to deliver Boone’s words with honesty. Kinnear and Connelly create sparks in their scenes while there is similar on-screen chemistry between Collins and Lerman. Rising star Wolff exudes the puppy dog innocence of a teenager in the first flushes of romance, who is blissfully aware of the pain that is about to smack him, literally, in the face. Kristen Bell enjoys a hilarious cameo as a married neighbour, who caters to Bill’s physical needs with gymnastic fervour and helps him pick out the perfect outfit for a profile picture on a dating website.
The ensemble is excellent, but the emotional payoff feels too neat. Characters venture almost nothing but gain everything.
If you don’t have to fight for something tooth and nail, then how can you truly value it?
Sadly, Boone doesn’t pose this question, let alone attempt to answer it.