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Senior Correspondent

“Stuck in Love” isn’t wildly original, but for a writing-directing debut it hits its marks cleanly and effectively, gives a talented cast an exhilarating workout, and leaves its audience convinced that newcomer Josh Boone has great things in his future.

Boone‘s comedy-drama centers on the Borgens, a family of writers living along the Atlantic Coast in New England. And I don’t mean a few blocks from the Coast…I mean in a three-story beach house overlooking the dunes.

The place was purchased with money generated by the first several novels penned by William Borgens (Greg Kinnear). Alas, Bill is now in a slump.  His wife of 20 years, Erica (Jennifer Connelly), left him three years ago for another man, and lately the depressed Bill hasn’t written a word. 

For excitement Bill hides in the bushes outside the house where Erica and her new husband live. He’s never happier than when he can eavesdrop on them fighting.

(Kinnear almost seems to be channelling a character he played a few years back in a similar romantic drama, “The Feast of Love.”  He’s good at these roles, but let’s have a bit more diversity, eh?)

Meanwhile Bill has his sexual needs met by a neighbor lady (Kristen Bell) who stops by on her morning run, services him in record time, and delivers unsentimental advice while tugging on her jogging outfit.

Bill and Erica have two children.  Samantha (Lily Collins, who has upcoming star written all over her) is a college girl who just had her first novel accepted for publication. Her parents’ breakup has left her supremely cynical when it comes to relationships…she likes her men big, strong, dumb and zipless.

“We both want to go back to your room, have sex, and never see each other again,” she informs a jockish fellow who makes the mistake of trying to engage her in meaningful conversation.

Also, she’s hugely angry at Erica, with whom she hasn’t spoken since the divorce.

Little brother Rusty (Nat Wolff), a Stephen King-obsessed high schooler, is a gawky virgin…very bright but also very insecure when it comes to the opposite sex.

But like all the Borgens, he’s sharp and observant. When Bill encourages the kid to emulate his sister’s “courageousness,” Rusty shoots back, “She’s promiscuous, Dad. That’s not the same thing.”

“Stuck in Love” follows the clan from one Thanksgiving to the next, chronicling the ups and downs of their various relationships.

The tough, unsentimental Samantha reluctantly finds herself charmed by a fellow student (Logan Lerman, so terrific in last year’s “Perks of Being a Wallflower” and just as good this time around).

Rusty discovers first love with a cute girl (Liana Liberato), only to discover that his devotion cannot cure her drug problem.

And circumstances conspire to nudge Bill and Erica back together.

The overall story may be unremarkable (movies about writers who can’t write…what a concept!) , but the details (especially the dialogue) are terrific. And the players pretty much tear up the screen.

Lots of laughs, a few tears, a big shot of romance. You could do a whole lot worse.

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