Film Review: Stuck in Love

This portrait of a dysfunctional family of writers tries hard to excite your intellect and break your heart, but is much too emptily contrived to do either.

Major writer’s block is afflicting William Borgens (Greg Kinnear) in Stuck in Love. The ultimate writer with beloved, prize-winning tomes to his name, he relentlessly prods his kids, promiscuous wild child Samantha (Lily Collins) and nervous, inexperienced virgin Rusty (Nat Wolff), to follow in his footsteps, paying them to keep journals rather than, as Rusty says, work at some meaningless job at McDonald’s. William is definitely a case of those-who-can’t-teach at the moment, as he morosely mopes over his ex-wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly), who has moved on to a younger man, while completely alienating Samantha for the way she has made Daddy suffer so.

Populating his film with a plethora of quiveringly sensitive, bookish males, writer-director Josh Boone has fashioned a would-be-literate chick flick that makes The Notebook look like an entry in the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s rife with high-falutin’ references by its characters to the likes of Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, John Cheever and Stephen King (who here assumes an equal if questionable position in Boone’s literary pantheon). You are initially drawn in, feeling something like relief that here’s one film that fully respects writers and what they do, and is not skittish about promoting it. But all too soon, Boone’s questionable taste level and constant, very self-conscious but none-too-deep emphasis on the what, how and why of Writers becomes oppressive and extremely precious.

William’s fascistic insistence on commandeering his offspring’s career choices is not only completely noxious, but more than a tad unbelievable, and try as he might, Kinnear (who by now seems to have a lock on lost middle-aged men roles) cannot redeem the character. And just when the level of sappiness is about to brim over, Boone compounds things by throwing in a boyfriend for Samantha, Lou (Logan Lerman), who is even more in touch with his so-called feminine side, with a dying mother (Barbara Weetman), no less.

Like Kinnear, most of the other talented actors here are haplessly weighed down by Boone’s character contrivances, although Kristen Bell momentarily brings a perky sparkle—and the only real laughs in the film—as William’s self-dubbed “fuck buddy.” Connelly initially brings a welcome realistic bite to her role, saying, “Everybody’s parents get divorced. She should fucking get over it.” But then Boone has her incessantly wailing about her hostile daughter—“She’s all I’ve ever done in my life and she doesn’t want me”—and all you can think is, “What about Rusty?” Then there’s Rusty’s love interest, Kate (Liana Liberato), who deflowers him but, wouldn’t ya know, has a substance-abuse problem.

A major crisis in the film occurs when Samantha gets her book published, making Rusty feel even more like a loser. But—ta-da!—no less than that highly lauded lit eminence Stephen King himself rings him up to compliment him on a short story which will soon appear in a sci-fi magazine, as the entire family is unconvincingly happily reunited at a holiday dinner. Boone’s manipulative bad ideas pile up, as does an unfortunate, song-infected music score consisting of a lot of very irritating chilled white whine. And, speaking of white, this film is very much so: At a poorly staged literary garden party, one would think no writers of color existed in the world.