“A writer is the sum of their experiences.” So says William Borgens (Greg Kinnear), a successful writer who hasn't written anything in the three years since his wife, Erica (Jennifer Connelly), left him. This school of thought has often been one of the divisive elements in what constitutes a good writer: Someone who bases their work on experience (often at the expense of others in their lives) or someone who actually has the imagination to come up with a world of their own. For the Borgens family, experience trumps imagination--especially in matters of love. Josh Boone's debut writing and directing effort, Stuck in Love, reveals that, often, one of the primary benefits of pain and anguish is channeling it through one's artistic medium, in this case, writing (though the existence of Fifty Shades of Grey seems to have taken the pain part a bit too literally, so maybe that's why it's so unpalatable).
Among the Borgens family members using troubling life experiences to their advantage is Samantha (Lily Collins), a college student who has just received news that her manuscript, Under the Pink, is going to be published by Scribner. Although William is happy for her success, he is miffed over the fact that she didn’t tell him she was working on an entirely new novel from the one he had originally helped her edit. Explaining that she didn’t want his voice to become her own, William realizes his over-controlling nature is, once again, affecting his familial relationships—just as it did with Erica. As a result of her parents’ separation, Samantha makes it her point never to get attached to anyone, pursuing only one-night stands as her source for writing material and human intimacy.
William’s son, Rusty (Nat Wolff), has also been blessed with the talent for writing, though William fears his lack of experience is hindering from becoming a truly great scribe. To help remedy this, William encourages Rusty to pursue the girl he’s been obsessing over, Kate (Liana Liberato), a more seasoned girl in the way of sex and drug use. When Rusty takes a chance on punching her boyfriend out at a party after he pushes Kate, the gamble pays off and the two start dating.
Samantha, in the meantime, has allowed her heart to open—albeit very reluctantly—to Lou (Logan Lerman of The Perks of Being a Wallflower fame), a fellow student in her Advanced Fiction Writing class. As they grow closer and closer, especially after Samantha discovers that his mother is dying, she begins to soften a bit, though not enough to break down the barrier she has created between herself and her mother, whom she blames entirely for her parents’ separation (after all, she did catch Erica cheating with another man, scarring her for life in the aftermath). Ignoring Samantha’s vitriol for her mother, Lou takes a chance on inviting Erica to the book release party in Samantha’s honor. The outcome is an icy exchange that sends Erica into further emotional upheaval.
Rusty’s girlfriend has also managed to cause drama at the book party, disappearing into the night with another guy after too many glasses of champagne. Rusty must finally admit that her coke problem is a reality (it sounds more after school special than it comes across). Erica and William, concerned over her whereabouts, bring Samantha and Rusty with them to the apartment of another college student, where they find Kate passed out from the champagne/coke combination. The agony of his first love being ripped apart from him (Kate is forced to go to rehab after the incident) prompts Rusty to write a story that ultimately gains the attention of his literary idol, Stephen King. It is at this point that you would think that things have become too mawkish, yet somehow the plot jives without making you feel totally uncomfortable.
While for some, Stuck in Love might tend to seem utterly pretentious, there is something too earnest about it to ignore—the primary case in point being the use of a Raymond Carver quote for the closing line of the film: “I could hear everyone's heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.” If you think about it, it’s a quote that applies perfectly to film, as well as writing, in that the fade to black at the end of a movie and the shared experience audience members simultaneously marinate over encapsulate the aphorism perfectly.