Stuck at NBFF | Good Concept, Poorly Executed
Newport Beach Film Festival SCREENING
“STUCK” is a tale about John, an agoraphobe who has not left his apartment in over two years. Living in New York City, so many of the things that John needs to live are readily deliverable. His day-to-day life consists of talking with his friend on Skype, commiserating with his brother-in-law, cooking, eating, and hanging out with his cat, Doc, who is also a shut-in. He’s gone through three therapists in the last year. One he’s dating. One recently quit on him. His new therapist, Dr. Claire Morning, has challenged him to leave his apartment in the next 30 days.
ISLANDS CINEMA, NEWPORT BEACH: STUCK Screening | April 26th – 5:15pm
It’s ten minutes before show time. I stroll into the theater to find an open seat in a nearby chair located off to the side and settle in. The film begins and just as soon as it starts, we realize the sound isn’t working. Silence fills the air. Technical difficulties. The projector runs for approximately five minutes before it is pauses to reset. In the span of the five minutes when the theater is silent, it’s oddly refreshing and unexpected, and somehow lends to the tone of the experience of watching the movie. I was able to hone in on the appearance of the characters – now mute – and take a stab at figuring out their feelings, relying on nothing but their body language. From the silence of the film I felt that both characters, John (played by Director, John Pains) and male therapist (Satomi Hofmann) were in emotional agony, both pained by their situation. This situation intrigued me. At that moment, then and there, I was invested in John. Why was he so shaken up? The film is restarted, this time with sound, and I am immediately saddened by the voice. The character, instead of acknowledging his pain, mocks it, a fact I found it to be immediately unnerving. Maybe that was the point though? A theme sprinkled throughout the film through John’s effort to make light of an otherwise serious (and incredibly complicated) situation.
As the film progresses I find it difficult to care about the character, John, because I can’t grasp hold of his story. Though the opening grasped my attention, it couldn’t keep it. He isn’t believable or relatable to me. His pain doesn’t come off as authentic or genuine, though perhaps that was the director’s goal: the character’s feelings weren’t real to himself, therefore they couldn’t feel real to us, yet? I’m still on the fence about that one.
The film moves along fluidly and there are moments where I am drawn back in by the cinematic subtleties of a change in sound and the unsteadiness of the camera, and those are the only real moments of redemption. Whenever John begins to feel anxious, we as the viewer are asked to feel it with him through the way the scene is shot with a sense of instability and the intense sound of his breathing. Whether it’s his adventure out into the hallway or him fiddling with the camera, obviously uncomfortable with filming himself (an act attempted a couple of times throughout the film), we are slowly let into John’s psyche. That juxtaposition gives us the opportunity to experience John’s moments of anxiety (I started feeling my own heart racing), causing those of us watching to experience his stress. As John unravels, this is when he becomes relatable and I am able to view the rest of the film with a sympathetic eye and find myself feeling hopeful for him. That said, sadly, his performance as an actor was lackluster. The character development could have been so much more impacting but instead, I found myself feeling a bit detached which contradicts the entirety of what seems like the film’s intent. In moments like the overuse of comedy to help shape his character, instead not only did the jokes fall flat but they distracted from the story itself. He did evolve as the movie progressed but even still, I wasn’t buying it.
All in all, while the story here, is a good one, it falls short in its delivery. I would not recommend this film as it stands. I’d suggest it perhaps once the kinks are worked out further. It needs to become believable early on, the acting needs to be fine-tuned, and the slower parts of the film should be cut out entirely. I appreciate that director allowing me, as the viewer, to experience the emotional angst alongside the character but unfortunately, in it’s current state, this film is sadly forgettable.