"Stuckey's Love: A Story of Not-So Convenient Romance". Jeez, I was thinking about referencing the song by The Judds or something, but a reference to Stuckey's is much cheesier, as well as more impressive, if you will, because, honestly, when's the last time you've heard someone pull off drawing parallels between a romantic comedy and a convenient store? Well, some would argue that most of today's rom-coms are like convenient store food, in that they're somewhat overpriced, ultimately barely adequate, if not sickening junk foods that you snatch up while you wait for something better to come across you while you're on the road, but this particular rom-com is better than that, so maybe the reference to song by The Judds would be more fitting, even if the song in question did come out in 2000 (I miss old music, but at least The Judds lean closer to real country than most of today's neo-country folk). Well, I reckon that this film filled its quota for fitting touches when it allowed people to finally release a breath of anticipation when it got Jennifer Connelly to play Lily Collins' mother, because I'm not entirely unconvinced that Phil didn't pay a little visit to everyone's favorite big-browed beauty in the late '80s... or that this film isn't some kind of a trick to subtly blow the cover of some kind of a messed up cloning experiment that went on in the heart of Hollywood in the late '80s. Shoot, I don't know how subtle this film is if that's the case, because the only other pretty lady as ruined by her eyebrows as Connelly is Collins (The last names are anagrams, it's a conspiracy, I tell you!), but hey, at least they're still more attractive than Kristen Bell. No, she's quite cute, but I often forget that she even has eyes on which to place brows, so she doesn't exactly help settle the frustration that I hold for the lost potential within the female members of this cast... and the film, as well, I guess. Don't get me wrong, I like the film just fine, but it's more-or-loss, if you will, "stuck in" neutral, held there by several factors.
In this day and age, you can never tell whether an indie comedy is going to be fun or kind of slow, and really, even when you're watching this film, trying to tell doesn't get any easier, as the film is rather unevenly paced, being generally entertaining, if not kind of lively, but with more than a few limp spells that never descend into dullness, yet all too often bland things up in a way that's distancing enough when you disregard that pacing had to jar out of liveliness to reach slowness. Pacing is uneven, though it's not the only storytelling aspect that suffers from inconsistency, as character focus also struggles to keep consistent, even when it comes to characterization that, while well-rounded, has undercooked areas, partly because only so much time is spent on fleshing out one character and his or her side of the story before the film jars to another lead, convoluting the structure of this character drama with uneven character plays. The film isn't exactly all over the place, but it is kind of inconsistent, not only jarring its pacing from lively to limp, but jarring between leads in a somewhat messy fashion that waters down the full depth of the final product, which at least keeps consistent in an element that is just as damaging as the unevenness: the genericism. I opened this paragraph saying that it's hard to figure out whether as certain indie comedy will be entertaining or slow, but at this point, you can take it to the bank that an indie comedy of this nature is going to take arguably too much from a brethren, and sure enough, the film is formulaic something fierce, taking on familiar story element after familiar story elements until, before you know it, it becomes utterly predictable. You don't need much experience watching films like these to know where this particular film is heading, and that dilutes a sense of consequence, which, quite frankly, was always to be limited, because even though there's something compelling at the core of this down-to-earth little dramedy, there's not much meat to the story, and yet, writer-director Josh Boone still obviously wants to milk this film for all its worth, and telegraphs this through a palpable sense of ambition that may mold the charm which carries this film quite some distance, but also plagues the film with vulnerability. This was always to be a sensitive project, but the aspirations for success further settles the defense of the final product, whose limited assurance makes the limited flaws all the more glaring, until you end up with just another indie rom-com, complete with uneven pacing and focus, conventionalism, natural shortcomings and all around underwhelmingness. Nevertheless, the final product keeps you going, being not especially memorable, but nothing if not enjoyable enough to stand as quite decent, even when it comes to atmospheric artistic punch-up.
This indie film isn't quite as celebratory of its indie-heavy soundtrack as other indie films... indie, indie, Hindi (इंडी), and when it does kick on some tunes, they're kind of hit-or-miss, but the misses are never too glaring, and most every indie ditty, to one degree or another, perks things up a bit with a reasonably tasteful liveliness, much like Tim Orr's cinematography, which isn't too special, but with a sharp definition behind handsome lighting that catches your eyes time and again. Again, the film doesn't excel all that much on a stylistic level, but it's more technically impressive than your usual garden variety independently-funded fluff piece of this type, and yet, while there is a certain attractiveness to this film's style, what really brings this film to life is its script. Now, Josh Boone's screenplay isn't all that impressive, even with its unevenness disregarded, but the biggest problems with this film are primarily the doing of Boone's direction, because when it comes to writing, the newcoming Boone is particularly promising, offering colorfully down-to-earth, clever humor and dialogue, as well as characterization that may be undercooked in plenty of places, due to uneven character focus, but is generally pretty well-rounded, drawing somewhat questionable, but engaging and reasonably believable characters who are perhaps most sold by the performances. I'd imagine the film blows most of its limited funds on the cast, which is packed with some justly well-known talents who may be underwritten, but deliver on sharp chemistry that convinces almost as much as the engaging performances by the individual talents themselves, whether we're talking about Greg Kinnear as an intellectual whose sharpness is tested by family affairs, or Jennifer Connelly as a woman who is estranged from her loved ones by a questionable new relationship, or Lily Collins as a young intellectual who receives harsh lessons on what she doesn't yet know as she comes of age, or Nat Wolff as a promising lad held back by limitations in initiative. I wish that the performers were more evenly played up, because just about every member of this colorful cast turns in a performance that engages even more than Boone's offscreen performance as director, which, even then, also endears. Boone, as director, pumps a lot of heart into this project of very limited potential, and such ambition reflects shortcomings, but at the same time, it breathes a lot of life into the liveliness that keeps the film going as quite enjoyable, keeping entertainment value going more often than not, breaking it up with moving moments, and consistently backing it with one of the film's most commendable attributes: immense charm. Really, there's not a whole lot to praise about this film, as there's not a whole lot to this film to begin with, but the charm that goes into this film, alone, makes the final product reasonably memorable, and the style, writing and acting don't exactly hurt, no matter how much shortcomings drive the final product into underwhelmingness.
In conclusion, unevenness in pacing and character focus distance engagement value, as does the predictability, overambition and natural shortcomings that ultimately get the film "stuck" as underwhelming, and yet, there's still enough liveliness to the soundtrack and cinematography, cleverness to the writing, effectiveness to the performances and charm to the direction to make Josh Boone's "Stuck in Love" an entertaining and often even rather compelling indie romantic dramedy, even if the fair deal of missteps hold things back quite a bit.
2.75/5 - Decent