“I remember that it hurt.  Looking at her hurt.”

This line opens the movie Stuck in Love, and is now tattooed on my bicep.  Just kidding, my biceps are too flimsy.  But this is one of many lines oft-quoted and made into memes by avid Stuck in Love fans.  Before watching this movie, I searched “stuck in love” on Twitter and found the movie has a very devoted following.  People praise its dope soundtrack, list it in their favorite re-watchable romantic dramas, and bemoan Netflix’s decision to drop it.  This made me quite excited to watch the movie, and it did not disappoint.  

Any Greg Kinnear movie is inherently worth watching, but let me extra-recommend Stuck in Love.  I’m so serious about this recommendation, that I refuse to spoil the movie for you in my review.  And, before I jump in, I’ll give you four quick reasons to watch Stuck in Love:

  1. If you love The Good Place or Veronica Mars, and want to watch everything Kristen Bell.  K*Bell plays Kinnear’s lover in Stuck in Love, which is weird but provides some of the movie’s biggest laughs. 
  2. If you love emotional family dramas like This is Us and Parenthood.  Stuck in Love fits that mold, focusing on a family of writers and hitting all the emotional beats.  On that note…
  3. If you want to cry.  This movie marks the first Greg Kinnear movie in which I cried.  The tears weren’t flowing, but my eyes were welling and required one or two Kleenex dabs. (Esther here, his eyes were quite moist and glistening.)
  4. If you like cool story structure, lots of literary references (the movie’s original name was Writers), and a dope soundtrack.  The soundtrack  defines my college experience, with Edward Sharpe’s ‘Home‘, The National’s ‘Gospel,’ Bon Iver’s ‘Beach Baby,‘ and lots of Conor Oberst.

Stuck in Love is not a perfect movie; it sacrifices narrative logic for feels like most emotional dramas do.  But it does enough right, features one of Kinnear’s finer performances, and is the Thanksgiving movie you need in your life.  Let’s talk shop.

Stuck in Love (2012)

The movie was directed by Josh Boone, who’s follow-up project was the crazy-sad Fault in Our Stars (Esther here again, this movie is bomb…go get it).  The movie follows a family of four, and transpires over the year between two Thanksgiving meals.  Both meals are prepped by Kinnear and his son who are clueless in the kitchen (grill that turkey over a beer can!), and set to Edward Sharpe’s ‘Home.’ (Esther here one last time, Nathan is also clueless in the kitchen.)

At the first meal, we meet patriarch Greg Kinnear and his two kids, Lily Collins and Nat Wolff.  All three are “stuck in love” in different ways.  Kinnear is a well-respected writer whose book ‘Suit Monkeys’ won the PEN/Faulkner award.  He’s been divorced for two years, but still pines for his ex-wife (Jennifer Connelly) and regularly spies on her from her yard.  Kinnear’s so “stuck in love” he hasn’t written anything new since the divorce.  (Connelly, meanwhile, is dating a buff dude who owns a gym, but grieves that her daughter won’t talk to her.)

Kinnear can’t let Connelly go.  He’s literally “stuck in love.”
Photo Credit: Millennium Entertainment.

Kinnear has encouraged his kids to write in journals since childhood, and both aspire to be writers.  Eldest child Lily Collins is a cynical college student, who vehemently resists emotional attachment and sticks with one-night stands.  She hasn’t spoken to mom Connelly in over a year.  At Thanksgiving #1, she announces her first manuscript has been accepted for publication.  Much to Kinnear’s chagrin it is not the one he helped edit. 

Second child Nat Wolff is in high school and lives with dad in a beach house.  Wolff is a hopeless romantic, with a major crush on a girl in his English class but without the courage to act.  He writes science fiction stories, with Stephen King as his major influence.

Kinnear’s Kids, Nat Wolff and Lily Collins.  Lily is the spitting image of Jennifer Connelly.
Photo Credit: Millennium Entertainment.

Having introduced the main characters, the movie shows us in parallel threads how each character becomes “un-stuck” in love (or tries to, at least).  Let’s go in reverse order of how I introduced the characters.  Wolff is encouraged by Kinnear to take risks in life, if only to enhance his writing.  Wolff takes this advice, follows his girl to a party, discovers she has a wicked drug problem, and punches her physically abusive boyfriend aka Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son (just your casual high school party, I guess).  The two start dating and Wolff gives her Stephen King’s It for Christmas (super romantic).

Meanwhile, Lily’s classmate starts pursuing her.  Lily rebuffs numerous date offers, but can’t keep her guard up forever.  It finally drops when she sees how her classmate cares for his dying mother.  The two start dating, the new boyfriend show’s he’s hip by playing Elliot Smith, and Lily shares why she’s so cold towards her mom.  Connelly cheated on Kinnear, causing the divorce and forever angering Lily.  

Making an effort to move on, Kinnear starts a fling with a married neighbor (Kristen Bell).  It’s not strictly physical, as Bell cares enough about Kinnear to help him set up an online dating profile and critique all the outfits in his wardrobe.  Kinnear goes on a date (with someone he meets online) and seems to have a good time, but spies on Connelly on his way home.  As he places his wedding ring on Connelly’s window sill to symbolize closure, he notices she’s reading one of his books.  This small victory, as well as Connelly’s own admissions that she still thinks about Kinnear, renew his hope to win her back.  

In a cross-over universe, Veronica Mars investigates Kristen Bell’s infidelity.
Photo Credit: Millennium Entertainment. 

Come springtime, the family and their significant others converge at Lily’s book signing.  This proves to be a disaster.  Lily’s boyfriend invites her mom behind her back, prompting an instantaneous breakup.  Wolff’s girlfriend mixes alcohol with lots of drugs and goes missing.  The family eventually finds Wolff’s near-dead girlfriend, with Kinnear physically subduing her drug handler.  Dysfunction reigns supreme, every character is doomed to stay “stuck in love,” and I end my plot synopsis.  Y’all will just have to watch.

I already told you why I liked this movie, but I will admit two major weaknesses.  First, narrative logic is often sacrificed for emotional beats.  For example, no college sophomore spends months editing a manuscript with her writer dad only to hastily prepare a new one and publish it.  (Wolff’s writing story arc is even more unbelievable, but I promised no spoilers!).  Second, Kristen Bell’s character defeats the movie’s main message.  The movie shows the many harmful ways infidelity and divorce impact a family (yep), only to implicitly excuse Kinnear for the effects his fling with Bell are having on her family (nope).

Good Dad Greg, At Long Last

Kinnear in Stuck in Love is the perfect fusion of his characters in The Last Song and The MatadorHe’s a divorced artist living in a beach house like in Last Song.  But his character has a depth that is well beyond Nicholas Sparks’ capacity to write, and draws on the wide acting range Kinnear displays in Matador.

Kinnear’s a strong dad in Stuck in Love, and the glue that holds the family together.
Photo Credit:  Millennium Entertainment.

And what a range.  In the first five minutes, Kinnear transitions from sheepishly spying on his ex-wife to proudly beaming over his daughter’s accepted manuscript to feeling jilted by his daughter’s deceit over which manuscript she submitted.  As the movie unfolds, we see lots of despondent, mopey Kinnear paralyzed by the divorce.  He can’t write, his kids accuse him of living in denial, and Bell constantly pushes him to stop moping. 

But we also see a family patriarch who cares for each member of his family in different ways.  Kinnear encourages Wolff to “get the girl,” then pulls out all the awkward parent stops as he eats cereal in a bathrobe while meeting her.  Kinnear suppresses his own feelings to proudly support Lily at her book signing.  Kinnear deeply cares for Connelly, but also cares that she fixes her relationship with their daughter even if he can’t get her back.  And while he cares for his family in 1000 small ways, don’t forget that he’ll physically subdue you with his well-toned biceps if you deal drugs to his son’s girlfriend.  (Greg is noticeably well-toned in Stuck in Love, and I’m guessing he hit the gym knowing he’d have a few shirtless scenes.)

Look at me, getting all sentimental over Greg Kinnear.  But, in reality, this is the first “good dad” role we’ve seen Kinnear play (minus his mutually destructive fling with Bell).  He’s played a lot of pushover and absentee dads (like in Last Song).  Enough, in fact, that I struggled to find a single movie for ‘Best Dad’ award at the quarter year mark.  This movie would get that award.  Kinnear’s love for his family, and specifically his strong chemistry with Connelly, is the engine that drives Stuck in Love.  I didn’t talk enough about Connelly, but she too delivers a very strong performance.  I consider this redemption for both actors from their sloppy, terrible pairing in Salvation Boulevard.  

Summary

  • If you like This is Us and emotional family dramas, watch Stuck in Love.  It’s particularly great to watch close to Thanksgiving.
  • If you like strong Greg Kinnear performances that fully utilize his acting range and show him as a (mostly) good dad, watch Stuck in Love.  His performance made me cry for the first time in a GK movie (!), is therefore ranked highly on the Kinnear Meter.
The ranginess of Kinnear’s performance puts it on par with The Matador.
  • I promised to compare The Gift to Stuck in Love, since both have the same Rotten Tomatoes score (57%).  So here it is.  They’re both good movies with excellent direction that will make you feel things (i.e., scared or sad); and they both have plot-related flaws that justify lower RT scores.  But Greg Kinnear gives a stronger performance in Stuck in Love.
  • Next-up:  We’ve watched too many good GK movies in succession.  It’s time to review the very-poorly reviewed I Don’t Know How She Does Itand complete the trio of Kinnear/Brosnan movies.  Here’s the trailer.

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