Film Review: ‘Stuck’

Six people from radically different backgrounds sing about their experience while trapped in a NYC subway car in this scrappy indie musical.

Michael Berry
Giancarlo Esposito, Omar Chaparro, Ashanti
Release Date:
Apr 19, 2019

Rated PG-13  1 hour 24 minutes

A stalled New York City subway carriage serves as a toe-tapping musical Petri dish for six socioeconomically diverse souls in the unique stage-to-screen musical adaptation “Stuck.” Sharing a stylistic template with its 2016 left-coast cousin “La La Land” (which it predated Off-Broadway by a good four years), the film’s 2017 copyright suggests a missed opportunity for momentum that could be made up by the positive word-of-mouth (generated by the film’s fest-circuit delay) for a modest achievement that benefits from a lot of heart and not being like anything else out there.

“I bring a measure of grace to the world,” says Shakespeare-spouting homeless philosopher Lloyd (Spike Lee regular Giancarlo Esposito, well-known to another generation for his work on “Breaking Bad”), a dishevelled yet dignified Greek chorus who sets the stage in song: “It’s a common notion that the universe will shove together people who uniquely offer what the other needs.”

With that, the train on which he seems to live grinds to a halt. “A police emergency,” says the conductor (Mel Johnson Jr., who played Lloyd in the stage version) before mysteriously and decisively locking the doors at either end of the car. Thus are three men and three women, each with their simmering frustrations, clichéd prejudices, and elusive dreams … stuck.

There’s the strapping Ramon (Mexican star Omar Chaparro) seen dashing from his dishwashing job to make the train on his way to another hard-labor gig, no-nonsense Eve (singer-actress Ashanti), and seemingly timid academic Sue (vet Amy Madigan, who also appeared in director Michael Berry’s fine first feature “Frontera”). Joining them are tense Korean dancer Alicia (“Teen Wolf’s” Arden Cho), her geekily half-hearted stalker Caleb (Gerard Canonico, from Broadway’s “Be More Chill”) and, of course, their derelict enabler, the loquacious Lloyd.

Popular on Variety

This fine cast talks and sings through a timely, hot-button laundry list of issues that encompass but are not limited to immigration, health insurance, racism, parenthood, social media, and sexual assault: Ramon works three jobs to support a wife and three young daughters, Caleb’s an aspiring artist, Eve’s newly-pregnant, Sue’s lost her son, Alicia’s haunted by an attack, and so on.

Films made in close quarters and/or talk-sung in a parallel reality are nothing new: Roman Polanski excels at the former, and Jacques Demy polished the latter (there’s even another movie that does both, director Reinhard Hauff’s 1996 tube-set German musical “Line 1,” also based on a stage show). What Berry and his troupe bring to the table is a lean focus on getting to their points in a New York minute with pithy dialogue, a broad palette of musical influences and a winning confidence.

Cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler, who has shot multiple documentary and fiction projects for Sacha Baron Cohen, Thom Zimny, and others, leads the craft charge by employing a fluid camera that at once emphasizes and expands the claustrophobic set while capturing unguarded character moments. And the much-maligned Metropolitan Transit Authority gets a well-earned shout-out for their access (and sense of humor), which lends the film an authenticity that sells the musical fantasy.

Stage musical creator Riley Thomas has a fleeting cameo as a ballet studio manager, as does co-composer and lyricist Tim Young as Sue’s son. Madigan, Cho, Esposito, and Chaparro are listed as associate producers, while the film is “in memory of” production accountant Danita “Misha” Turner, “a ray of positive joy,” per producers, who passed away just after filming.

“Oftentimes these connections are neglected or rejected,” sings Lloyd early on to complete the couplet, “but every now and then the universe succeeds.” So, in its sincere and refreshingly scrappy way, does “Stuck.”

Film Review: 'Stuck'

Reviewed online, Balmain, Australia, April 18, 2019. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production: An Eammon Films release of an MJW Films, Little Angel production. Producers: Mike Witherill, Joe Mundo.

Crew: Director, writer: Michael Berry. Based on the musical “Stuck” by Riley Thomas, with music and lyrics by Thomas, Tim Young, Ben Maughan. Camera (color): Luke Geissbuhler. Editors: Jimmy Hill, Elisa Cohen, Lucy Donaldson. Music supervisor: Tim Young. Music Mix: Chris Arias.

With: Giancarlo Esposito, Omar Chaparro, Ashanti, Amy Madigan, Arden Cho, Gerard Canonico, Noah Fleiss, Anita Welch, Shannon Lewis. (English, Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Nicole Kidman Charlize Theron Margot Robbie

    PGA Awards Winners: Complete List (Updating Live)

    The Producers Guild of America are announcing the winners in the motion picture and television categories for its 31st Annual Producers Guild Awards on Saturday night at the Hollywood Palladium. The evening began with a rousing performance by Idina Menzel of the “Frozen II” Oscar-nominated song “Into the Unknown.” “Leaving Neverland,” the documentary detailing sexual [...]

  • Bong Joon Ho, Jane Rosenthal, David

    Netflix Praised by 'The Irishman,' 'Marriage Story' Filmmakers at Producers Guild Panel

    Streaming giant Netflix received strong support from filmmakers behind “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” at the Producers Guild of America’s nominees panel on Saturday at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Jane Rosenthal, one of “The Irishman” producers, said Netflix embraced the vision that she and Martin Scorsese had for the $170 million film. [...]

  • Gabriel Harel on MyFFF ‘The Night

    Gabriel Harel Discusses Dystopic Parable ‘The Night of the Plastic Bags’

    With his first short film, the animated “Yùl and the Snake,” Gabriel Harel won Europe’s Cartoon d’Or for the continent’s best animated short film, given at the 2016 Cartoon Forum in Toulouse. Now, Harel’s awaited sophomore effort, the animated “The Night of the Plastic Bags,” competes at UniFrance’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, and is available on a swathe [...]

  • MyFrenchFilmFestival: Profiling Benjamin Crotty’s Short ‘Nicolas

    ‘The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin’: Nationalism Wrapped in Charisma

    Winner of Locarno’s Signs of Life section, Benjamin Crotty’s “The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin” has enjoyed more than 12 months of festival success and critical acclaim as it reaches the end of its festival run at UniFrance’s MyFrenchFilmFestival. A modern take on one of France’s most influential yet widely unknown characters, the film headlines [...]

  • Alexander Ludwig

    Alexander Ludwig on Sharing his Recovery Journey, Playing the 'Bad Boys' Tech Guy

    With his towering height and stature, Alexander Ludwig looks every bit the action star, first appearing as Cato in “The Hunger Games,” and more recently as fierce Norse Viking chief Bjorn Ironside on History Channel’s “Vikings” and in “Bad Boys for Life,” the third installment of the “Bad Boys” franchise, with Will Smith and Martin [...]

  • Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Scores Big With $66 Million Launch

    “Bad Boys for Life” is showing plenty of power at the North American box office with an impressive  launch of around $66 million at 3,740 venues over the four-day holiday weekend. Sony’s sequel to 1995’s “Bad Boys” and 2003’s “Bad Boys II” far exceeded the studio’s pre-release forecasts of a $38 million weekend. The film, [...]

  • A Bump Along the Way Movie

    'A Bump Along the Way': Film Review

    While “Derry Girls” continues to be the last word in young, raucous female rebellion on the Emerald Isle, “A Bump Along the Way” has a little something to add. Sin the same Northern Irish city as the hit Netflix sitcom, but shedding the ’90s nostalgia for the Snapchat age, Shelly Love’s appealing, unassuming debut feature [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content