What is it about movies about writers that so easily rankles? The easy answer is that they’re a film critic’s bugaboo, claiming expertise in an area other writers like to think they know about. But the problem is just as often a mechanical one: movies about writers often feel compelled to produce samples of their characters’ work — which are then shoehorned into a screenplay that may then call further attention to its own awkward writing.
That’s certainly the case, anyway, for Stuck in Love, in which Greg Kinnear plays William Borgans, an acclaimed novelist paralyzed by the absence of his wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly). Their children, Samantha (Lily Collins) and Rusty (Nat Wolff), aspire to dad’s profession, and the movie follows the family members’ various romantic relationships, observing how it affects them as writers and as people. Like many films paying lip service to the world of writing and publishing, Stuck in Love is in a big hurry to get to the good parts, treating the matters of agents as editors as mere inconveniences on the path from big ideas to worldwide success (though writer-director Josh Boone’s screenplay does have the faint idea that it should invoke certain words and phrases as incantations: Scribner! Manuscript! Editorial hand! The PEN/Faulkner award!). Somehow, the fact that Samantha is about to publish a book and Rusty’s jealous impatience that he hasn’t yet doesn’t seem intended to register as insane, even though Collins is still in college and Wolff is still a virginal high-schooler.
They might be able to better pass as a family of prodigies if their ideas didn’t all sound secondhand. Collins (perfectly cast, from a visual standpoint, as Jennifer Connelly’s daughter) must grapple with sub-undergrad, rom-com-level observations about the futility of love and commitment in the face of moony idealist (and yet another aspiring writer) Lou (Logan Lerman), while Wolff moons over a popular girl with a dark secret. Kinnear, meanwhile, gets the best and briefest subplot as he dallies with married neighbor Tricia (Kristen Bell), who has a chipper, direct energy that the movie could’ve used in higher doses. She’s the best of several female characters Boone fashions as casual and aggressive about sex; this sex-positivity would be admirable if their collective behavior didn’t also seem like fantasy disguised as frankness. The exception is Jennifer Connelly — because even the most mirthful laughter from Jennifer Connelly looks pained, bordering on anguished.
Connelly, though, remains the object of Kinnear’s affection, and despite its light bawdiness, Stuck in Love turns remarkably regressive in its implicit first-love-true-love-best-love arrangements — even flecked as they are with bits of bigger melodrama. Many of its late-movie plot turns impose emotions on its characters, forcing changes of heart as needed; a literary type might call them a series of cheap dei ex machina. Or maybe said type would go all the way and call this movie a series of cutesy wish fulfillments acted out by a cast that deserves better.