Debut director Josh Boone’s Stuck in Love (2012) is an intelligent romantic comedy about love, loss, the consolations of literature and the familial bonds that tie. Divorced novelist Bill Borgens (Greg Kinnear) still lays a place for his wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly) at the family’s Thanksgiving table. She’s left him for a younger man. His 19-year-old daughter Samantha (Lily Collins) has not got over her parents’ separation and refuses to speak to her mother. Cynical about romance and wary of relationships, she prefers casual sexual liaisons with her fellow college students. That’s until she meets the earnest Louis (Logan Lerman).
By contrast, Samantha’s younger brother Rusty (Nat Wolff) is paralysed by his romantic feelings for Kate (Liana Liberato), a beautiful, high school classmate who’s dating somebody else. Bill may not have accepted his wife’s departure, but life is still pretty good with a house on the beach and the opportunity for regular, no-strings-attached, sex with his married neighbour Tricia (Kristen Bell). It is Tricia who finally persuades Bill to move on with his life by introducing him to online dating and overhauling his wardrobe. What makes Stuck in Love a cut above most modern day American rom-coms is its literary subplot. This is a family who communicate best when they are writing, yet since his divorce, Bill has had writer’s block.
Bill directs all his energy towards encouraging his children in their endeavours, although he feels snubbed when Samantha announces that she is about to have a book published that he’s not read and knows nothing about. Rusty, meanwhile, an aspiring fantasy-cum-sci-fi writer, expresses his crush on Kate through a love poem read out in class and struggles to find his own creative niche in the family. There are various literary allusions throughout the film from Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Conner to Stephen King (who delights in a surprise cameo role).
Although Stuck in Love is covering familiar ground, Boone avoids sentimentality by underlining his characters’ flaws: Bill’s obsessive spying on his ex-wife; Rusty’s lack of enthusiasm at his sister’s publishing deal; Kate’s drug abuse; and Samantha’s stubborn refusal to give her repentant mother a personal inscription at her book launch. Gradually, love reunites the family, but Stuck in Love takes care to steer clear of Hollywood clichés and its various plot twists are realistically and poignantly executed.