What’s on Netflix: “Stuck In Love”

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“A story about first loves, second chances, and the people we can’t live without.”

Stuck in Love – a film that feels like the lovechild of Crazy, Stupid, Love and Smart People in that it deftly balances interlacing stories of different, equally brilliant family members whose passions negate their arrogance. Well, almost. You could definitely summarize Stuck in Love by calling it “Smart People Struggle to Love.” Stuck in Love chronicles the lives of the four members of the Borgens family over the course of a year. Who are the Borgens, you ask?

Note: Kristen Bell is far less prevalent in this movie than the trailer implies.

Bill Borgens (Greg Kinnear) is an accomplished author who enjoys a modest amount of celebrity and the wealth that always seems to attach itself to the famous. He has a beautiful home on the beach, a best-selling novel, and two brilliant children. The only catch is that his wife, Erica (Jennifer Connelly), left him three years ago and he can’t seem to get over her, quite literally getting *ahem* Stuck In Love. He even sets a place for her at Thanksgiving dinner, a gesture that to many might seem pathetic, to some romantic, and to most, desperate. Will Bill hold on to that hope, or will he finally gather up the courage to move on?

Bill’s wife ran off with a hot, younger man who owns his own gym. Since then, Erica has been estranged from her resentful daughter, Sam (Lily Collins), but remains in closer contact with her younger son, Rusty (Nat Wolff). Erica spends much of the movie struggling to reconnect with Sam most of all, even seeking Bill’s help to do it. Throughout their lives, both Sam and Rusty have been paid by their father to write journals and practice the craft of writing, rather than work what some might call a “real job.” This is considered laughable by Erica’s lug head boyfriend, but laudable to those viewers that wish writing in a journal could have been their first job. Whether or not this makes us question Bill’s parenting techniques, both Erica and Rusty have grown into excellent writers. Just like every writer, they each have their own bundle of issues.

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Sam (left) having a heart to heart with her father.

Sam is a promiscuous college student on the verge of publishing her first novel at only nineteen years old. A novel that her intellectually domineering father knew nothing about. She’s brilliant and beautiful, so much so that she gets guys to sleep with her even after she trash talks their intelligence. It’s readily apparent that Sam has some deep-rooted intimacy issues. These problems rear their ugly head(s) most when a sweet-hearted classmate, Lou (Logan Lerman), takes a genuine interest in her. Can she forgive her mother and let love in?

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Rusty (right) talking to Kate in the hallway at school.

Rusty, a young high schooler, is smart and excels in his schoolwork – especially English – in which he writes poetry for a tragically beautiful classmate of his, Kate. Aside from being a budding pothead, Rusty is the type of hyper-intellectual with a deep-rooted passivity. He spends all of his time either reading Stephen King or thinking, without ever doing much of anything. How can you be a writer if you’ve never experienced anything worth writing about? This all changes after a pep talk from his dad that leads him to finally have a shot with his dream girl.

Quite frankly, I loved this movie. But then again, Liam was right when he emailed me a trailer with the subject line, “This is totally a Corey movie.” Beyond the hopeful and romantic overtones that so typify my taste in movies, Stuck in Love did a lot of wonderful things, even from a technical standpoint. The movie starts right at Thanksgiving. We get poetic introductions to each of our characters that set-up their personalities and predicaments, and then minutes later they are having turkey, like a neat little time stamp. There’s a funny little moment when Sam shows up at the door, arriving home on her Thanksgiving break from college. Bill opens it, deadpan, and slams it in her face before opening it again a moment later to everyone laugh. It’s this cute little inside joke with the family, the double door opening, one that gets alluded to again at the end of the movie once the full year has passed. In between it all, we get the various holidays and special occasions – conveniently executed markers of time – until we find our way back to that same ritual: Rusty and Bill in the kitchen tag-teaming the mashed potatoes and turkey, uncorking the wine, and putting the finishing touches on Thanksgiving dinner. These little, ritualistic moments add so much depth. The details of a character’s personal life can mean the difference between a character and a person; are we watching the story of a movie or the story of people’s lives? By making the viewer unsure of which they are watching, you’ve done the job of a filmmaker. In a lot of cases, it’s the silly little inside jokes that can remind us what life is all about.

It’s not often that I pay particular attention to Rotten Tomatoes ratings when writing my own reviews. When you get crappy, pithy quips like this, it’s hard to respect what you hear:

“Cliched literary trappings come together in “Stuck in Love,” but the final product feels more like a footnote than a finished work.” – Some Guy who is supposedly a Top Critic

The point is, I was sad to see that Stuck in Love got a measly 59%. People like this guy go into the movie expecting too much. You can never have a movie that is even remotely “literary” without people labeling it cliched. And tossing in a literary quip about footnotes is not only cliched in and of itself, but it is straight up oxymoronic.

Don’t get me wrong, Stuck in Love is far from a “great” movie. But it is pretty darn good. The labeling of first loves, second chances, and the people we can’t live without is definitely too neatly packaged with its three primary characters, but the film is sweet and has a lot of heart. It’s one of those stories that never gets around to making any definitive or profound statement about anything really. We dabble with drug use and addiction, but only tangentially. We grapple with the nature of first love, but never receive a resolution. We discover the significance of mercy and second chances even when it feels hollow. But we learn above all else the value of love over hate, and that’s something important. The people we can’t live without has more to do with preserving family than anything else in Stuck in Love, but for everyone family is the most important thing, however you might define that family. It’s all so simple really. There’s a whole slew of overcomplications mixed in throughout the movie like Bill’s frequent sex partner, Rusty’s drug use, and Sam’s unmovable hatred for her mother, but when all’s said and done, this family rallies and works towards focusing on what really matters.

Stuck in Love was always meant to be a feel good movie about people like Sam, who have been hurt but manage to stay strong and forgive. It’s about people like Bill, who persevere and make themselves better even when things are at their most bleak. And perhaps above all, it’s about people like Rusty, who embark upon their first love when they happen upon a deeply poetic and moving realization we can all relate to:

“I remember that it hurt. Looking at her hurt.”

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