By Ross Bembenek
Every once in awhile, a film pops up that is legitimately moving, that conjures up genuine emotion. Sometimes it’s joy, sometimes it’s anger or sorrow, but I always walk out of the theater satisfied if a film makes me actually feel something. Let me conjure up an image: a film that gives you a sense of unity and hope in humanity. A film that manages to take racial and social tensions and ease them, giving audiences a sense of unity not often seen in our society today. Got kind of an aesthetic in your head? I bet you didn’t think of a wacky musical set in a New York City subway car starring Giancarlo Esposito (he of Breaking Bad fame). That’s where Michael Berry’s film Stuck comes into play.
Stuck centers around six strangers in a New York City subway car: a homeless man, a black woman, a Hispanic immigrant, a Korean-American dancer, a white college student, and a middle-aged white woman. The train stops, stranding the six of them in claustrophobic conditions that draw them out of their respective bubbles (although the homeless man helps with this as well). As each person is drawn out of his or her bubble with a personal musical number, tensions rise and prejudices and assumptions run rampant amongst the passengers.
I had absolutely no idea this was a musical when I went into the theater. I think I just skipped over that part of the guidebook, but when I saw Giancarlo Esposito (playing a Shakespeare-quoting homeless man) break out into song at the beginning of the film, I was SHOOK. I was expecting a high-stakes thriller but instead I got a musical dramedy, and honestly I was delightfully surprised. I think that the musical genre was a great way for the film to tackle the themes it deals with. In my opinion, music is a great unifier in today’s society. The way the film uses song to deal with issues like racism, immigration, and abortion is absolutely fantastic. In addition, the performances are all very good. Esposito shines, as does Ashanti as Eve, the pregnant African-American woman stuck on the train while on her way to an abortion clinic.
Something else in this film that resonated with me was the claustrophobic nature of the cinematography. This film is full of tight close-ups and mid shots that gave a sense of intimacy with all of the characters. And for a film shot in mostly one location, there are some very interesting and well-composed shots throughout. The audio mix, the sound design, and the direction are all superb as well. I think that at times the writing is a bit sub-par, and I think the lyrics in some of the songs are a bit too on-the-nose at times, but those are minor complaints.
As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Stuck. It was one of those films that I just pulled from Heartland’s guidebook and ended up loving. It tastefully and masterfully deals with extremely controversial and sensitive issues in today’s society in a non-partisan and unbiased way – an extremely difficult feat in today’s hyper-partisan society – all with well-written characters and fun musical numbers. It walks the paper-thin line between comedy and drama perfectly, providing viewers with wonderful character drama and development while also giving us some well-executed comedic relief. Overall, I give Stuck four stars out of five. If you get the chance to catch this film at Heartland Film Festival (or anywhere for that matter), do it. I cannot recommend this film enough.