Stuck (2017) is a film adapted and directed by Michael Berry as his second feature film. It takes the idea that we are all connected – like in the often reviled Oscar-winning Crash (2004) – placed inside a bottle-episode, which is a story where the characters are forced into one location for the majority of the story (often for some arbitrary reason), done through the guise of a musical. In other words, it’s pretty fantastic, as each premise asks you to suspend your disbelief that its positive message and strong musical numbers (with an excellent cast) makes for an ambitious and terrific experience.
Stuck was a pleasant surprise that worked for me in multiple ways
Five strangers making their daily commute end up stuck on a New York subway car with Lloyd (Giancarlo Esposito), a homeless man who’s taken shelter in it. As the time wears on, the tension rises, forcing the discomfort between the diverse group of individuals to become talking points, and conceived truths are brought to the surface. Through song and intercut flashbacks, the lives of those on the train are revealed to us and the other members on the subway, making everyone question their preconceived notions while finding themselves reflecting inward.
Sue (Amy Madigan), Eve (Ashanti), Alicia (Arden Cho), Ramon (Omar Chaparro), and Caleb (Gerard Canonico) comprise the rest of the characters in the film. The only two who know each other, yet are still technically strangers as they’ve never spoken, are Caleb and Alicia. It is implied early in the film that Caleb is following Alicia, and his intentions are not initially clear. However, the film will build its narrative with the idea that these individuals have more in common than they may think.
The themes this film tackles are familiar but well executed. A moral ideal like “Don’t judge a book by its cover” ring true, as the initial introduction of Lloyd plays out. The other passengers on the train avoid sitting across from him – and when he breaks into song, it seems to only toughen their resolve to completely ignore him. Why? He’s clearly crazy, and it’s best to not make eye contact and just keep your distance. If you’ve ever ridden on a New York subway, then you’ve probably encountered someone similar to Lloyd: a person who is clearly homeless with a cart of some kind, with what one assumes is all their worldly possessions. This movie makes us reflect on our own behaviors towards the people we meet in day-to-day life without passing judgment on us for our actions, but rather encouraging us to reach out and communicate.
Caleb at one point remarks at how poorly our society communicates, despite having so many different ways to do so. The message he is going for initially seems a little on the nose, but it does help put the movie into perspective. Most of the people on the train are going through some very tough situations. However, it seems each of them would rather carry their burdens by themselves rather than asking, trusting, or relying on someone else. It is clearly crushing each individual, and this moment where they find themselves unable to keep moving is indicative of their respective breaking points.
In fact, I think the name of this film has multiple meanings. Sure, the surface answer for the name “Stuck” is that the characters find themselves in that very situation: stuck together in a subway car. However, each character is stuck in their individual situations and must decide how to proceed from this moment, then the next, and then the next…much like we are stuck in our current situation, and we have to decide “how do we go from here?”. Of course, the hope is that we can unstick ourselves, but it is our actions and choices that will decide our future positions, and that feeling of being helplessly locked in a room with people of whom we would probably never interact with.
There is a really ambitious sequence in the movie where Caleb gets to discuss his art with Lloyd. The scenes here rely heavily on CG superhero elements. To me, they look pretty decent, considering this is clearly a low-budget indie film. This scene plays a major part later in the narrative, and the emotional catharsis for the audience – so I’m glad Berry didn’t decide to cut this from the movie for budgetary reasons. Even if you find the effects to be subpar, the role it plays in Caleb’s arc is crucial.
I truly loved all the performances in this film. Even the scenes that got a little heavy-handed when the issues of race are brought up in a bit of melodrama were executed very well. The musical performances were strong and enjoyable, plus this kind of musical isn’t one I’d seen before. Stuck earns the Must See rating, and I encourage you to seek it out through whatever platform it is available to you.