MOVIE REVIEW: Stuck
STUCK— 4 STARS
The simplest interpretation of this indie film’s title is the setting of the characters involved. Six New Yorkers are stuck in an MTA Subway car that has stopped mid-route because of police activity ahead. The establishing views of cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler observe the transition of a sunny metropolitan day above ground into the dingiest and rattling poetic monotony of the underground’s noise mixed by supervising sound editor David. F. Van Slyke. Each individual of this sextet is trying to get to their desired places and can’t. Life has paused them.
Yet, like the truthful insides of any gathering of unknowns, there’s more to Stuck than a mere interval of happenstance, and the swelling urban musical that rises from its collective lungs elevates that fact. The spoken and sung revelations of each character’s plight create a clashing cross-sectional dip into America’s Melting Pot. These poignant emotions fuel biting social commentary in a way few films, big or small budget and musical or otherwise, have ever succeeded. This hidden gem plays exclusively at the River East, Crestwood, Village Crossing, Rosemont, Streets of Woodfield, Woodridge, and Yorktown AMC locations in the Chicagoland area.
Mine the film’s title deeper with synonyms. Behind the public transportation jam, each citizen of this showcase is stuck in their own personal way. Breaking Bad Emmy winner Giancarlo Esposito leads this ensemble as Lloyd, a performance thespian who knows his Shakespeare while lugging all of his belongings around on a cart. He is homeless and, therefore, stranded more than stuck. Lloyd sweetly snarls his soliloquies as he fashions himself as “a measure of grace to the world.” Esposito is the king of this patchwork court and brings forth a reeling performance.
The four other folks and synonyms who have found themselves in Lloyd’s moving domain are Eve (recording artist and executive producer Ashanti), Ramon (Omar Chaparro, soon to be seen in Pokemon Detective Pikachu), Sue (80s mainstay Amy Madigan), Alicia (Teen Wolf’s Arden Cho), and Caleb (virtual newcomer Gerard Canonico). Ramon is a Hispanic day laborer mired by the exhausting hard work to support his family. Eve is saddled with an unwanted pregnancy on her way to an abortion clinic. Sue is a white woman of some privilege stymied by a familial loss. The final two arrived together. Alicia is a ballet dancer confounded by fears and the fixed attention of Caleb’s pursuit of her as an artist.
LESSON #1: EVERY STRANGER HAS A STORY — Both the appealing and the weird among us that either catch our eye or cause a passive glance has something going on underneath the surface impression. Maybe it’s kindness. Maybe it’s crazy. As a fellow stranger sharing that space, no matter if you engage that inherent value or ignore it, you have to respect the other person.
Stemming from Lloyd’s catalyst, unspoken nods and acknowledgments turn into openings for conversation. Their asides and stories play out in song sequences that include external scenes revealing character backgrounds of how each arrived at this place. Unfortunately, not all is civil and peaceful. Our people are quick to label and get cross with each other. Huge assumptions and frustrations boil over before shared empathy, cultural acceptance, collaborative understanding can calm the vocal violence.
LESSON #2: WHEN STRANGERS NEED EACH OTHER — Our subway passengers of Stuck are in a place where they have to deal with each other and the situation together. You can argue one moment but then need a favor in the next. Demographics and labels cease to matter. This becomes a test of patience and a shift where random luck morphs into connections of circumstance. Interdependence is one area of many where these characters change from the time they get on the train to when they disembark.
Stuck is the sophomore feature film from writer/director Matthew Berry after his underseen 2014 western Frontera. As quite a switch from a dueling Michael Pena and Ed Harris, this sharp new work adds to his promise as a filmmaker to watch. This single setting film has Chicago roots. Stuck began on the 2008 stage at the La Costa Theatre before migrating to Off-Broadway through the New York Music Theatre Festival of 2012. Its expansion to the big-screen is dexterous and seamless.
Naturally, the music is its core. The impressive songs and compositions stem from original writer/playwright Riley Thomas (By the Book) with support from arranger Ben Maughan and Tim Young as the composer and music supervisor. Through choreography from Shannon Lewis, each performer is granted standout opportunities to chant their side. The editing team of Elisa Cohen, Lucy Donaldson, and Jimmy Hill worked with music mixer Chris Arias to merge these layers together quite effectively. You know Ashanti was going to blow her number (“Make it Better”) away, but the other cast members really impressive with their own talent, especially Canonico and Cho. When all six are combined as an ensemble for two songs (“Stuck” and “Try”), you’re going to have to hold down the proverbial doors from being blown off.
Beyond this artistic commitment and creative blend of genres, the messages of Stuck win over. The journey of swirling discomfort, anger, sadness, and confusion that all force camaraderie within these demographic microcosms to become less judgmental people is one very much worth following with our own audience steps. When they sing to each other, they sing to us. What they sing about speaks about all of us. That’s powerful stuff.