Stuck in Love (2012)

Pt. 1 of 3

Stuck in Love By Grant Wicks

Some nights, you’re alone in your apartment. The cold tendrils of the oncoming winter are creeping through the cracks in your windows, sending the occasional shiver through your blanket-wrapped body. The kitchen faucet drips every 1.5 seconds, like a liquid metronome. The leak has been getting progressively worse, and you keep promising yourself you’ll find the time to take care of it. You haven’t yet, and maybe you never will.

For a brief moment, you become acutely aware of your own mortality. A sudden clarity jolts you out of the usual hypnotic daze of your day-to-day life, as you resolutely move to take action. You gather yet another blanket (your 3rd) and rush to the computer, overwhelmed by the weight of time and the choices that have led you to this point.

Without further delay, you rapidly fire up Netflix and start to browse, as the mesmeric glow of the LCD and the extra blanket combine to envelop you once again in a comforting haze of inconsequential concerns. What should I watch tonight? Now this is a question you can handle! The answer, of course, is Stuck In Love (2012). Let us begin…

The film opens on teenager Rusty Borgens, played by the equally teenage-at-the-time Nat Wolff. Wolff is spelled with two f’s, because double-FU America, you don’t get him, and maybe you never will. Good Ol’ Rusty is in class, keeping it classy. Or is he? While the other students are trying to focus on their English work, Rusty is getting all extra-curricular, gazing at the girl seated next to him, who has fallen asleep across her desk. When Rusty starts composing emo-poetry to her in his head, his dozing classmate’s nose begins to bleed. This initially leads me to believe that Rusty has dormant telepathic abilities that have yet to fully manifest. Left unchecked, these abilities could spell danger for the emotionally obsessive teenager and everyone around him.

Sensing Rusty’s mental gaze fixed on her like so many Eyes of Sauron, Nosebleed Girl wakes up. She wipes herself off, and flees to the halls as the bell rings. Pursuing her at a safe distance, so as not to arouse suspicion, is psychic-serial-killer-in-the-making Rust. The hunt is abruptly called off though, as Rusty gets an eyeful of ass-grab when Nosebleed Girl’s boyfriend (played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of The Terminator) shows up on the scene. Rust looks down at his shoes and wonders if he has what it takes to destroy a horny teenage Terminator and win Nosebleed’s heart.

Next up, Stuck In Love writer/director/love expert/sensitive dood Josh Boone introduces us to Rusty’s sister, Samantha Borgens (Lily Collins). Leather jacket clad Sam is on the prowl at a college party, going with the now-classic, male-penned, condescending, stilted, philosophical monologue pickup technique. After lulling her target into a stupor by outlining her life views in meticulous detail, Sam cuts to the chase and delivers the knockout blow: despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, she doesn’t want to talk, she just wants to fuck. Nameless college guy is of course into it, so they go back to his room.

Before they get down though, Samantha has to check out all the books on his nightstand, in the hope of further fueling her superiority complex hard-on. She is momentarily turned off when she discovers a copy of Stephen King’s It, which seems perfectly reasonable. “This is my idiot brother’s favorite book,” she explains. This also seems perfectly reasonable, since it supports the popular “Rusty is a telepathic psychopath and we should all be worried” theory that this movie has come to be known for in its first three minutes.

Meanwhile, Greg Kinnear, aka Papa Borgens, is spying on his ex-wife and her new husband. You know, normal dad stuff. As an actor, Greg Kinnear is in a perpetual state of midlife crisis. Or am I thinking of Jason Bateman? It ultimately doesn’t matter. Kinnear/Bateman is terminally divorced, indefinitely unshaven, and just pitiable enough not to call the cops on apparently. His stubble serves as a visual signpost, letting us all know that he is Stuck In Love, and stagnating in a sea of misguided romantic delusions.

At first, Papa B is morbidly delighted to find his ex-wife (Jennifer Connelly) and her replacement husband fighting! “What’s this? Trouble in paradise mayhaps?” thinks Papa B. He is clearly elated. However, elation quickly gives way to dismay and self-pity as ex-wifey and her new man start having make-up sex uncomfortably close to the window Papa B is spying from. Replacement hubby has a serious set of abs, and Kinnear seems perfectly content to see how this all plays out. Maybe he’s a glutton for punishment, or maybe he’s trying to pick up a few pointers. Either way, the family dog blows Papa Pervert’s cover, and is subsequently sicced on him. Kinnear beats a hasty retreat, and we’re on to the opening credits.

At Papa B’s beautiful beachside abode, Thanksgiving dinner is being prepared as an indie hit with whistling marches us through the credits. Rusty and Big Papa B are tearing up the kitchen with their cooking pyrotechnics, interjecting an occasional piece of encouragement to one another, like “OH YEAH!” “THERE YOU GO!” or “DON’T PUSH THAT HARD!” You know, normal Thanksgiving stuff.

Rusty briefly hesitates before setting a mysterious fourth plate at the table, and then Sam arrives. They all sit down for turkey dinner, but the fourth seat remains conspicuously empty. Unable to contain her excitement any longer, Sam blurts out the big news: her first book is being published! Surprise, this is not the totally normal family you thought it was in the first five minutes of the film! Rather, it is something more: an entire family of writers!

After Sam drops the P-bomb, the fallout is immediately apparent: Dad is proud, Rusty is jealous, and the ghost of Banquo nods his quiet approval from the empty place setting. Daddy B raises a toast to his daughter, but pride quickly gives way to disappointment and self-pity as Sam drops the second bomb of the evening: the book that’s being published isn’t the one that Papa B had been helping her with! Kinnear storms off in a fit of wounded pride, wondering how a fellow writer could unceremoniously betray her editor/father like that.

Meanwhile, Sam confronts Rusty about the empty place setting. It seems that every year Father/Editor Borgens requests that his children set a place for their absent mother, insisting that she’s going to come back to him. Again, pretty normal dad/editor stuff. Rusty is about to head over to his mother’s house for second dinner, and invites Sam to accompany him. Sam declines, and tells Rusty to tell their mother to “drop dead!” When Rusty pulls a Papa B and storms off, Sam and the ghost of Banquo are left to finish their dinner in silence.

Outside his mother’s house, young Rusty partakes in some grade-A weed. It’s the only thing that dampens his telepathic abilities, and he needs to be in control if he’s going to sit through an entire meal with mom and the walking, talking pair of abs known as his stepdad. Shortly into the meal however, Step-Abz brings up how he thinks it’s a little odd that their birth-dad forces them to keep journals. Rusty, struggling not to melt Step-Abz’s brain with a telepathic attack, explains that their father pays them to keep the journals, and that there is “NOTHING WEIRD ABOUT IT!”

Sensing the impending psychic assault, mom ushers Rusty out of the room before things get more heated. Rusty is steamed, spouting thinly veiled threats like, “I’m not going to let that Neanderthal talk about dad like he’s some kind of WEIRDO!” So, your father was spying on your mom and step-dad having sex as recently as last night, then insisted that you set an extra place for Mom at the Thanksgiving table the next day. How dare anyone call him a weirdo!? What an outrageous claim to make! Mom adeptly changes the subject though, and laments that her daughter Sam hasn’t spoken to her for over a year. Rusty, his telepathic wrath deftly deterred for now, comforts his mom.

Back at the beach, Sam goes outside to check on her father/editor. She makes peace by offering to give Papa B a signed copy of her new book. How generous. With her olive branch having been reluctantly accepted, Sam presses forward, deciding that now is the perfect opportunity to confront her editor/father about his wife-peeping, extra place setting ways. Worst of all, Biggest B hasn’t even written anything since his wife left him (except for that whole book that he ghost wrote for his daughter)! Dad shrugs her intervention off, insisting that his ex is “coming back.” Can Sam not see the stubble on his face? Can she not understand that he is Stuck in Love?

Later that evening, it’s Sam and Rusty’s turn to make peace. They exchange gifts: Sam reassures Rusty that he will be published someday, and in return, Rusty offers to smoke up Sam with that grade-A ganja he’s always packing. While high, Sam goes off on another long-winded, Josh Boone-penned, philosophical tangent. She explains to young Rust that “realists get laid,” “there is no God,” “life is only as meaningful as you fool yourself into thinking it is” and “avoid love at all costs.”  Rusty thinks that she’s fucking depressing, but what does he know? He hasn’t even been published.

The following day, back in high school, Rusty reads his latest emo-poetry aloud to his class. He prefaces the reading with, “this poem was written over Thanksgiving break, under the influence of cannabis.” He says this so everyone will know that, even though he’s technically already a paid professional writer (thanks Dad), he’s not so different from his future mind-slaves… er, I mean classmates. The poem is clearly about Nosebleed-Girl (Liana Liberato), and after Rusty focuses his smoldering psychic gaze on her once again, the inception is complete: Nosebleed tells Rust that she’s really into his “poem” and falls deeper into his telepathic web. Unfortunately for good Ol’ Rusty, Teen Terminator shows up just in time to whisk Nosebleed away. In retaliation, Rusty stares psychic daggers at Mini-Arnold’s back. Telepathy doesn’t work on robots though, and Rusty is forced to retreat back to his home/workplace.

Meanwhile, at his familial writer’s commune, Papa B performs his usual fatherly duties: having aggressive, unfulfilling sex with his married neighbor (Kristen Bell) and reading his children’s journals without permission. Rusty comes home early though, and catches his dad in the act… of aggressively reading his journal. Rusty is pissed, because his Dad/Boss promised that he would never read the journals he pays them to write! How dare he! Rust threatens to report his Boss/Dad for inappropriate workplace conduct, but Papa B fires back at his Son/Employee, telling Rust that he needs to get laid to be a truly great writer. Fearing that he will lose his job, Rusty backs down and embarks on a quest to become a truly great writer.

That night, Rusty and former child star Spencer Breslin (The Kid, The Cat In The Hat) decide to crash a house party being thrown by the “cool kids.”  However, when party gatekeeper Rodney tells them to “fuck off” back down the yellow brick road they came from, it seems our heroes’ night of debauchery will be short-lived. That’s when Rusty calls on all of the abilities and resources at his disposal: pulling out a giant bag of weed, he proceeds to Jedi mind trick Rodney. As it turns out, that IS the giant bag of weed Rodney is looking for, and he lets the dynamic duo inside. Spencer Breslin is more than a little terrified of his friend’s wanton display of power, but is mostly just happy to be there. Even supporting roles have been hard to come by for Spencer since The Happening (2008). Rusty, correctly sensing that too much time spent with Spencer could be bad for his career, ditches his friend and heads upstairs in search of Nosebleed.

At the same time, Sister Sam is on the prowl yet again. Up to her usual shenanigans, Sam is at a local concert, where she spends equal time ignoring her estranged mother’s calls and making eyes at the band’s rat-faced frontman. At this point, she’s probably already fantasizing about what kind of inferior books are on Sleazy Singer’s nightstand. Based on the lyrics of the song he’s performing, I’d say she has every reason to be excited.

Back at the party, Rusty is also excited. He’s going to find Nosebleed and finally lay it all on the line! However, instead of laying it all on the line, young Rust accidentally spies Nosebleed doing a line in the bathroom, and excitement quickly gives way to shock and dismay. Unsure how he feels about romantically pursuing a Scarface-in-the-making, Rusty seeks out Spencer and tells him it’s time to go. Before they leave though, Nosebleed and her Baby Governator boyfriend storm downstairs in the midst of a heated, drug-fueled, domestic dispute. When the Teeninator lays hands on her though, Rusty has finally had enough. With a guttural cry, Rust pours all of his pent up hatred for robots into one mega-punch. The shot connects, and as the T-18 writhes on the floor, spouting synthetic blood from his face, Rusty whisks Nosebleed away into the night. Spencer, fearing his screen time coming to an end, steals back the giant bag of weed from Rodney and follows close behind.

On the car ride home, Spencer is pumped up! He’s now a hero by association, and has extended has screen time by at least a couple minutes. Needless to say, he’s feeling pretty good about himself. In a gambit to buy even more screen time, Spencer shamelessly pours out praise for his friend’s recent triumph. Rusty, ignoring his B-list friend, wonders if he’s a beat poet now, because he just beat a dude’s ass. Less than a minute later, Nosebleed and good Ol’ Rust kick Spencer Sidekick to the curb. They’re heading back to Rusty’s house, and it’s strictly an A-list affair. As Spencer pleads to the heavens for more screen time, our star-crossed lovers drive off without a second glance.

At the writer’s ranch, Papa B has fallen asleep in a deck chair on the back porch. His deep slumber is suddenly interrupted by a cell phone call from his urgent-sounding ex-wife. It seems she’s been ringing the doorbell for quite some time, and Kinnear goes ahead and gets his hopes waaaaaaay up for some of that make-up sex he’s so often spied upon, but never received. His Ex comes around back as Kinnear attempts to quickly preen himself.  He’s trying his hardest not to look like he hasn’t bathed in over a week, and is failing miserably.

Ex-Wife tells Unbathed-B that she “can’t sleep” and “can’t live like this anymore.” To all this, Kinnear replies, “I can’t either.” Really, Papa B? Less than a minute ago, you were sleeping so soundly that you didn’t even notice the doorbell being repeatedly rung! Sounds like you can sleep pretty damn well to me. We’ll give Sleepy-B the benefit of the doubt for now though. Perhaps he was referring to her other statement, and he too “can’t live like this anymore.” Let us more carefully consider the way he and his ex-wife live. Both of them own ridiculously nice houses, and seemingly don’t have to lift a finger to support themselves. In fact, Papa B hasn’t had to write anything in years, and just spent his entire day lounging around in deck chairs on the beach and getting laid. What a horrible quality of life he must endure!

Ex then explains that she’s just upset about their daughter giving her the cold shoulder. Clearly disappointed, Daddy-B deflates like a balloon with stubble drawn on it in permanent marker. Jennifer Connelly correctly asserts that their daughter’s hatred towards her has something to do with Papa Borgens’ empty fourth plate Thanksgiving ritual. In response, Delusional-B alludes to a mysterious promise he made to Ex-Connelly, that he “intends to keep.” Unsure whether he is coming on to her or threatening her, Madame-Ex takes a page out of Papa B’s parenting playbook: she informs him that he needs to move on and “go get laid.” Kinnear responds like an insolent child, informing his ex that Big Daddy-B does get laid. Connelly does a double take at this, unsure how an unfit, unshaven, unbathed, wreck of a human being like Papa B could ever get laid. Then she remembers The Patriarchy, and everything makes sense again.

Peeping-B, also remembering The Patriarchy, realizes that whoever wrote/directed this movie (Josh Boone) must be part of said Patriarchy (there’s no way in hell a woman would write this film). Thus, all his abhorrent behavior up to this point is not only devoid of repercussions, but completely excusable and even empowering. Feeling assured of his place of privilege and authority within the film (thanks Josh Boone), Papa B decides to brag about spying on his ex-wife and smugly explain to her why He knows she’s unhappy. J-Conn, realizing that her primary function within the film might be to forgive Kinnear’s behavior and eventually come back to him, thus further normalizing and empowering The Patriarchy, tells Papa B to “shut up.” As Temporary-Ex storms off into the night, Patriarch-B and Director Josh B high five each other and agree that, “she’s coming back.”