So last night, sitting on the couch with my roommate roaming Netflix, we decided to watch a movie called Stuck in Love, a movie directed by Josh Boone of The Fault in Our Stars fame. Now bear with me for a second, because this isn’t a review, but it’s going to sound like one for a minute. I’d been dying to watch it, and it was an hour and a half, the time my roommate had until she had to Skype with her best friend to watch The Bachelor (don’t even get me started on The Bachelor), so we decided to watch it – or, rather, I did, since she had already seen it.
No surprise, I absolutely loved it. Fantastic writing (for the most part – I’ll get to that), fantastic acting, and really inventive and evocative directing. I even noticed the directing. That means this movie is pretty dang good. But what really struck me was it’s simplistic setting and characters.
For those who aren’t aware, as it wasn’t a huge film, the story follows a family of three, comprised of a divorced father and his two children, one a daughter in college, another an angsty high schooler, in addition to the bits and pieces from the ex-wife, happily married for three years to some other man. Typical indie fair, but interestingly, all three of the main characters are writers. The father, Bill, is a famous author, with multiple books published and a solid career; the daughter, Sam, is studying creative writing at school while also landing a publishing deal for her first novel, however not under her own name; the son, Rusty is still an aspiring writer, but clearly has talent needing to be developed. He worships Stephen King and writes mystery/thrillers, and she writes what seems to be realistic fiction, possibly for young adults.
This seems to be the bond they all share – that they all write, that they all have a writer’s mind, cultivated by their father. At one point, Rusty’s stepfather mutters that it’s stupid that the kids keep journals and that the father pays them for it in place of them getting a job. Deeply offended, Rusty fights back and then leaves the room, and to be honest, I was with him. Who hasn’t kept a journal at some point?
But, really, the story follows the three in their quest to find love…or, actually, their troubles in love. And for someone who tends to write fiction centered around, or at least concerning love, in all its different forms, I found this a striking and compelling take on love. I deeply identified with this movie, even though “Advanced Creative Fiction” would never be a lecture and you’d most definitely know everyone in your class, an inaccuracy I found to be really strange given the rest of the material in the movie. I also marveled at the fantastic writing in itself. It was kind of meta, realizing that a movie about writing was so well written, clearly someone who knew what he was doing.
I thought this until I saw the ending in the movie. Each character had their own conflict relating to love, and for Bill, it was coming to terms with his ex-wife cheating and ultimately leaving him. In an intimate and unexpected moment, he tells Sam that when she was little, he left her mom for some other woman, but for only six months. He came back to her, and he accepted her, and all she asked in return was for him to wait for her if she made a similar, stupid mistake. After three years, he still waits for her, though throughout the movie different people, including his ex-wife, try and convince him otherwise.
As all the other storylines wrapped up, one year from the start of the movie, on Thanksgiving, Bill’s storyline was unfinished. It didn’t feel that way, though, because coming to terms with a loss of love cannot be tied up like the rest of the movie. The true payoff for his honesty with his daughter was her coming to terms with the fact that her mom didn’t just hurt her father, but that they had hurt each other. She had idolized her father and hated her mother for hurting him, and through Bill’s honesty realized her idolization – but not love – had been misplaced, and her anger had been wrong. Sam’s forgiveness of her mother was Bill’s ending storyline too, since he will still struggle with missing his wife.
Or, that is what I thought, until the last scene, at Thanksgiving. Slapped at the end of the movie, there’s a knock at the door right before they start to eat. Who could it be? Please don’t let it be the mother. I wish I had been wrong.
Bill’s ex-wife comes, crying, but not heavily, and embraces him. He hurriedly sets a place for her, and she takes it. Everyone seems truly happy…except me.
For one, it’s incredibly cheesy, which makes it unrealistic. The entire movie I was struck by how realistic the movie made the unrealistic. The lines were a bit pretentious, but why wouldn’t they be, coming from a family of writers? Bill was a bit eccentric, but not anything too drastic, and why would he? He’s a writer. And then there’s the whole college thing, but that’s so minor I would hardly call it unrealistic. But this ending? It seemed like Bill picked up his pen and said “I want this ending, so I’m going to write it this way.”
I was honestly surprised and disappointed that the story had to end this way. It could have ended right before the last scene, and I would have found the ending to be satisfied. A motif throughout the film was Bill waiting for his wife by setting a place for her, but at this Thanksgiving, he set the place for her, then took it away, as he started to see how foolish he was. But then he added it again, because Sam brought her boyfriend – she learned how to love, a direct antithesis to Bill, who learns how to let love go.
I could also envision her coming to Thanksgiving, but with her husband. The movie explored different kinds of love – romantic, companionate, parental, sexual, unconditional – and the addition of the mother, happy and with both her families, would have rounded out the story’s themes nicely. Because not all love is romantic, her addition at the table would have symbolized her commitment to love her ex-husband and her children as a family, even while she does not romantically love her ex-husband anymore.
Obviously, I enjoyed the film, but I’ve been thinking a lot about endings lately, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens ending the way it did (post forthcoming, obviously), as well as reading Hannah’s post from last night about the alternate ending for Pride and Prejudice (which I had NO IDEA about and now my mind is blown). So I’m not sure if I hate the movie because I hate the cheesy ending, or I love the movie but will pretend the ending doesn’t exist? I really don’t know what to do with it, and I definitely don’t understand how a well-written, innovative movie could have such an oversight, even it comes from studio executives or producers who wanted their way.
Either way, I’m puzzled, but it’s a good way to learn, as a writer…how not to end your movie.