Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Amy Madigan, Ashanti, Arden Cho, Omar Chaparro and Gerard Canonico in Stuck
"In many ways it feels more like a succession of power music videos, with almost every one memorable and worth a replay."

Stuck is...different. Not a musical - and to be fair, it does not describe itself as such. No, it is, as it says on the packet, a musical film with an excellent cast and a bucketload of powerful songs.

The premise is simple. Half a dozen commuters, going about their daily lives, find themselves unexpectedly trapped – stuck! - on the New York subway. The train comes to a halt: the driver apologises for this turn of events – although the reasons for the delay are never quite made clear. Which seems par for the course from my own daily experience.

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So there they sit, below the ground, each stewing in their own personal grievance against the world: six strangers, doing their best to avoid each others eyes, working hard at not communicating.

And they are angry. Boy are they angry! Angry about racism, about violence against women, about disability, about the loss of a child. I would not have been surprised had writer/director Michael Berry decided to name his work Rage, instead.

Catalyst, guide and, ultimately, peacebringer to interactions in this literal dystopian underworld is homeless Lloyd (Giancarlo Esposito). Yes, it is a cliché, the outcast uniting the 'normals', but he carries it well, in turns angry, sensitive, understanding. There is immigrant cook, construction worker and all-round multi-tasker Ramon (Omar Chaparro), cheated-on Eve (Ashanti) and bereft Sue (Amy Madigan), frozen in grief for a lost child. Last but by no means least, there are dancer Alicia (Arden Cho) and aspiring comic book artist Caleb (Gerard Canonico).

For a film with so much anger on display it ends on an oddly reconciliatory note. The stalker may be redeemed. Motherhood is good...and reaching out to other people is positive. After all that doom and gloom, rising notes and lines such as “Maybe we are all part of one big family” and “Truth can set you free” may sound both trite and at odds with what went before. But any more trite than your average Disney? No. The difference lies in the terrible realism that precedes this resolution.

Stuck reminds you that there exists a grammar and syntax to musicals. An expectation about how they will be put together and arranged. Certain songs at certain points performing very specific and well-established functions. And apart from the opening number by Esposito and the grand finale, Try, which is a cast ensemble chorus song, Stuck eschews such rules.

In many ways it feels more like a succession of power music videos, with almost every one memorable and worth a replay. In fact, multiple replays: I shall be out on YouTube looking for tracks from Stuck. The problem, for me initially, is that very fact that each song was intimate personal story – and so strongly presented - works against this film functioning as a coherent whole.

Because in between each story is alienation, anger and silence. I say initially, because after a while the director's plan becomes clear: to weave separate stories together, juxtaposing them in such a way that each provides comment on the other, making sense of different elements, knitting them into a harmonious whole.

There are some very strong songs and performances here, so much so that to single out any one is absolutely not to diminish the others.

Still, I cannot review this film without mention of Madigan’s heartrending performance of Gone or Cho’s equally effective, if in a different emotional key altogether, rendition of Look. My one objection: the way the film nestles what is essentially a romantic justification for stalking next to a ballad of brutal sexual assault.

I get – I do get – what they were trying to do. Some, I suspect, may find this abrupt transition tasteless, or worse: triggering.

Esposito is magnificent throughout, holding the action together and providing a strong vocal underpinning to all the rest.

Bottom line: there are strong themes on display here, so if you are worried that you may be affected by issues of loss or violence, fortify yourself before watching Stuck. But this is different, emotionally charged, powerful. I would definitely listen again and, after an uncertain start (do give it a quarter of an hour to get past the alienation and awkwardness) I found myself drawn in.

Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2019
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Stuck packshot
A musical about six strangers who get stuck on a New York City subway together and change each others lives in unexpected ways.

Director: Michael Berry

Writer: Michael Berry, based on the play by Riley Thomas

Starring: Giancarlo Esposito, Amy Madigan, Ashanti, Arden Cho, Omar Chaparro, Gerard Canonico

Year: 2017

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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