Director Josh Boone’s debut film Stuck in Love has earnest intentions and an endearingly real tenderness that makes up for other shortcomings. The film centers on a dysfunctional family of bibliophiles attempting to maintain a semblance of normality.
Bill Borgens (Greg Kinnear) is a well-respected, albeit quirky novelist in denial that his ex-wife, Erica (Jennifer Connelly) has happily moved on without him with new beau, Martin (Rusty Joiner). He consistently stalks them for proof and satisfaction when he catches them arguing through the windows. Bill and Erica’s daughter Samantha (Lily Collins) is a promiscuous cynic away at college, relishing in—and bragging about— the publication of her first novel. Her brother, Rusty (Nat Wolff) is an innocuous high school virgin tentatively exploring the nuances of his first love.
The first scene pans a classroom setting, Rusty admiring his crush, with the voiceover stating “I remember that it hurt, looking at her hurt”. This opening statement plants the seed of angst that grows throughout the film, aided by a beautiful and melancholy soundtrack. We hear tracks from Bon Iver, Bright Eyes, and Elliot Smith’s “Between the Bars”.
It’s fitting that the film should open on Rusty’s life, because he is perhaps the most genuine and likeable character among the cast. The acting does not feel forced in the slightest, unlike that of Collins’, which at times is infuriatingly unnatural. To her credit, she plays a predictable character: the uninhibited and beautiful college girl whose relationships never last longer than a night because of her tarnished view on love after her mother’s affair. She is guarded and cocky, referring to herself as a unicorn—a mystical creature no one can quite understand or catch. Surely, many can relate to her skeptical view on love, but the acting leaves something to be desired in trusting the sincerity of her emotions. The performances from Connelly and Kinnear are tender and fluid, with Erica’s insistence that Bill move on and date, and Bill biding time—awkwardly coalescing with his hot married neighbor (Kristen Bell)—until she comes to her senses.
At its worst, the film is predictable—the problems which arise are solved pretty linearly, which leaves little room to challenge the audience’s imagination, however, it is raw and will undoubtedly steal a few tears from even the most stoic of moviegoers. At its best, we see candid performances from an engaging cast. For a first time director, it’s a job well done. Worth seeing.
Watch the trailer. Stuck In Love opens nationwide July 5th.