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by Jay Seaver

"Stays in place and moves backwards, which mostly works for it."
3 stars

Given that its name is a hashtag, one might expect "#Stuck" to have social media play some sort of central part of the story, and maybe cringe at the inevitable mishandling. Fortunately, filmmaker Stuart Acher doesn't choose to stack storytelling gimmicks three deep, instead mostly just choosing to let the romantic comedy rest on its actors' performances. It's not a bad plan.

That leaves two gimmicks, of course. The first is that the bulk of the movie takes place in one car stuck in a Los Angeles traffic jam, with Guy (Joel David Moore) trying to deliver his one-night stand Sarah (Madeline Zima) back to the car she left near the bar the night before. The second is that the two were apparently wasted enough to not remember anything about the night before, including each other's names, and it is coming back to both of them in reverse chronological order, which is how the audience sees the flashbacks.

It makes for kind of a rough start; just by the nature of the beast, folks in the middle of a traffic jam are testy at best and often abrasive, which winds up amplifying the traditional "romantic comedy leads don't initially like each other" to the point where it starts to actually become worrisome. It's also kind of predictable, as the first scenes of the traffic jam introduce all the familiar characters for that situation and only one or two draw much of a laugh. The initial flashbacks are also kind of weird, and not always in a good way, often emphasizing awkwardness over sexiness and often being shot from a first-person point of view that often feels too close in or distorted, like Acher's trying to do something with their self-image and how they see the other, but it's just out of reach.

Eventually, though, the pair become more familiar and less antagonistic, letting the audience kind of get to know their personalities better, as opposed to their biographical details. Sarah is still kind of spiky and Guy a bit apt to trip over his own tongue, but it doesn't just seem like a way to tease information out any more; they're talking for each other, as opposed to us. The funny thing is that this also applies to the flashbacks; as much as the pair are just meeting at that point, they're already capable of delivering some of the movie's best banter.

Given the chance, the pair banter well and are well-suited to their respective parts. Madeline Zima is sharp and sarcastic, but also able to slide into being quite charming and warm as things go on. Joel David Moore has a bit of a difficult time reconciling his cute-nerd persona with Guy's "serial-dater" tendencies. They're an enjoyable enough pair that the small cast doesn't prove to be much of an issue. Zima gets a chance to play against a larger group later on, and while it's a familiar scene, it's done well.

Acher does a nice job pacing things, especially during the morning-after segments. The production never quite fools one into believing that the traffic jam is real, but it's good enough for the film's purposes. Like a lot of independent romantic comedies, it slathers the pop soundtrack on a bit thick, but it's more often fun than overdone.

"#Stuck" is pretty good, and has the nice property of not overstaying its welcome. It admittedly hasn't been sitting on a shelf or eventually finding a tiny distributor because it's flawless, but it doesn't have to be; it's a cute romantic comedy that works pretty well at its small scale.

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originally posted: 10/22/14 16:19:44
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4/08/16 mxnpqekdj USA 4 stars
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  10-Oct-2014 (MA)

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