Stuck in Love (2012)
★ / ★★★★
Since the divorce of Bill (Greg Kinnear) and Erica (Jennifer Connelly) two years ago, the Borgens household has become an abode for serious writers. Over Thanksgiving break, college student Sam (Lily Collins) reveals that a book she had written over the summer is getting published. Bill is extremely proud but Rusty (Nat Wolff), Sam’s only sibling, sneers across the table. He has yet to publish any of his material. His muse is right around the corner, however, when he is forced to read one of his work in class—a poem about a girl (Liana Liberato) who sits several feet away but happens to be seeing another guy.
Written and directed by Josh Boone, “Stuck in Love” is full of whiny, irritating, arrogant people with bland personalities. It takes a solid premise—a family of writers who have a certain competitiveness in their blood—and minces it into a standard three-piece love story where the outcomes are easily predicted by anyone who is half-asleep.
It makes the mistake of allowing the supporting characters to overshadow those who we are supposed to care about most. A character worthy of an entire film is Louis (Logan Lerman), Sam’s classmate and a potential love interest. Like Sam, he is a writer but one that specializes in mysteries and detective stories. Unlike Sam, his life is interesting and his personality has genuine substance. He deals with illness but he is pleasant to be around. Lerman is smart to reel in some of the awkwardness and turn some of that into charm.
Equally lovely to see on screen is Kristen Bell who plays jogging-obsessed Tricia. She and Bill have sex from time to time and they have a common understanding that what they share is purely physical. Unlike Sam, Tricia is no love interest. I enjoyed her relationship with Bill because they seem to fit well as friends. One of the highlights of the picture involves Tricia helping Bill with his wardrobe prior to going on a date. It is unfortunate that the screenplay does not make full use of the friendship, to delve into it more, and build emotional resonance out of it. She appears and disappears for comedic effect.
Louis and Sam’s banters are tolerable and amusing at times, but I found Rusty and his class crush quite unbearable to watch. Perhaps part of the problem is that Wolff and Liberato share little to no chemistry. During the more intimate scenes, it feels like watching two inexperienced actors rehearsing. There is not enough rhythm or flirtation to make the scene magnetic. Rusty is supposed to be a hopeless romantic. It is feels off that the relationship bears little romance.
The Borgens’ problems are not at all deep despite the drama happening all around. Right about the halfway point, I caught myself wondering if I was supposed to care and whether the screenplay would even bother to throw a curveball that is designed to break the ennui. The point is, the Borgens’ problems can easily be solved if they just acted like real people for a change. Hold a family meeting. Person A does not want to see Person B? Tough luck. In reality, people are required to do things they might not particularly like or agree with.
The central problem is foreshadowed in the title. The screenplay is essentially stuck with a familiar formula, only occasionally colored by slight brushes of independent filmmaking. There is nothing wrong with attempting to appeal to a wide audience while saying something intelligent or insightful. The key is an elegant script that this film lacks.
★★★ / ★★★★
Fourteen-year-old Annie (Liana Liberato) had a sixteen-year-old online friend named Charlie. The two had been talking for two months, bounded by their interest in volleyball, and Annie felt like they were close. While Annie’s parents (Clive Owen, Catherine Keener) dropped Peter (Spencer Curnutt), Annie’s brother, off to college, Annie agreed to meet with Charlie at the mall. But Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) turned out to be at least thirty-five years of age. Written by Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger, “Trust” was a fearless look at a young victim of an online sexual predator and how her life was changed forever. I was glad it didn’t shy away from difficult images in order for the material to be more digestible. We read Annie and Charlie’s chat transcripts and heard their telephone conversations. We saw the way naive Annie was carefully lured by a full-grown man into a motel room. We even caught a glimpse of Annie’s abrasions when a hospital staff was running a rape kit. The director, David Schwimmer, wanted to make a point: There is no shame in talking about serious and important issues like rape and other forms of sexual assault. However, the film wasn’t as focused as it should have been. Annie’s father, Will, felt like the FBI’s investigation, led by Special Agent Tate (Jason Clarke), was going too slowly. He wanted answers and he wanted it now. So he tried to pose as a teenage girl online in order to lure pedophiles around the area. That would have been interesting if the story was about revenge. But it wasn’t about vengeance. The film was about a tragedy and the pain of those affected. When the camera remained still and allowed the characters to speak what was on their minds, it was totally devastating. Like any other teen, Annie was curious about love, sex, and whatever was in between. She wanted to know how it was like to have a boyfriend and have sex for the first time. The director did a good job in letting us know who Annie was and what was important to her. So, after everyone found out that she had been assaulted, when Annie felt the need to defend Charlie’s actions, though we surely would not agree, we had a rudimentary understanding of why she adopted such a stance. There was one excellent scene where the father confronted his daughter about what had happened to her. It stood out because the father asked questions and gave comments that I wanted to ask and say to her directly. Although it was necessary that everyone remain sensitive to her plight, I felt as though a bucket of bluntness was needed to shake her into believing that she wasn’t to blame and it was okay to want to move on. “Trust” was right to offer no easy solution. Although the ending might frustrate certain viewers, it was appropriate because each case varies like an unknown pandemic without a cure.
★★ / ★★★★
When their daughter, Avery (Liana Liberato), snuck out to attend a posh teen party, Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and Kyle’s (Nicolas Cage) home was invaded by four thugs (Cam Gigandet, Ben Mendelsohn, Dash Mihok, Jordana Spiro). They knew Kyle’s business involved selling diamonds and they hoped that by forcing the husband to open a money vault, they would be that much richer by the end of the night. But Kyle wouldn’t open the depository even if his wife’s life was threatened. Written by Karl Gajdusek and directed by Joel Schumacher, “Trespass” could have been a lot of fun if it hadn’t taken itself too seriously. Once Sarah and Kyle were on the floor, screaming, begging, and arguing for their lives, they weren’t given very much to do. With such a high caliber actors, one would think that the filmmakers would take advantage of it, take some risks, even unnecessary ones, and really challenge its audiences in terms of what was normally expected in home invasion movies. Instead, the film was too safe. Aside from the shot when Sarah realized that one of the men wearing masks was someone she knew, there was no other scene that moved me, good or bad. The rest were just there as I passively watched the formula: the hostages waiting for an opportunity to run, finding a chance to get away for a couple of minutes because the thugs ended up on each other’s throats, and eventually getting caught because the backyard was so big, it was like running a marathon from Point A to Point B. Back to square one, nothing changed. To its credit, the formula wasn’t boring, per se. It was repetitive but I wanted the family to find an escape so badly to the point where I didn’t mind. I just wasn’t as involved as I felt I should have been. The characterization was obvious especially concerning the head of the family: Kyle was like a diamond. Despite the heat and pressure applied by the criminals, he just wouldn’t break. But there was nothing else to his character. Aside from Cage doing his crazy yelling in an outstanding (and borderline comical) manner, his character wasn’t very interesting. He was smart and sarcastic but he held so many secrets that, by the end, we ended up not really getting to know him. And then there was the criminals’ laughable decision to bring a druggie, Petal, the only woman in their group, as a helping hand. I thought it was unintentionally funny. She pranced around the house wearing other people’s clothes, admiring shoes, jewelry, purses and taking drugs. When she wasn’t doing the aforementioned activities, she went downstairs to whine about what was taking so long and wanting to slap around Sarah out of jealousy. It was like bringing an already ticking bomb to a supposedly controlled situation. For a group who went out of their way to gather so much information about Kyle and his family, stringing a loose cannon along just didn’t feel right. With all the things that happened, “Trespass” probably would have worked as a farce or a satire instead of a straight-faced suspense picture if the writing had been exaggerated and ironic. Since it settled with typicalities, it ended up blending in a haystack of mediocrity.