Stuart Gordon Retrospective: Stuck

Woohoo! I saw a new(ish, 2007) Stuart Gordon movie and loved it! That man’s still got it. Not that I could or shall ever doubt him.

stuck poster by you.

Stuck is based on this absolutely awful true story of Texas woman Chante Jawan Mallard. Gordon clearly didn’t conceive of the film as straight-up horror so much as a horrific thriller, but like every Gordon filmStuck boasts a scene or seven of some major grue that you wish were not assaulting your eyeballs. It also boasts some majorly gruesome cornrows that you wish weren’t assaulting your eyeballs. 

deer in headlights by you.

Yes, Mena Suvari plays Brandi Boski, whose cornrows may be ill-advised considering that some noise has been made of the characterization of black woman Mallard being played by white woman Suvari. But let’s be honest here—those cornrows are ill-advised because Suvari looks ATROCIOUS in them. Girlfriend’s got some tenhead and she requires bangs, alrighty?

mena bangs by you.

You see? You see how cute with bangs?

Brandi Boski works as a nursing aide at a retirement home (also true of Chante Mallard), and our first introduction to her is as she compassionately cleans up an elderly resident who has soiled himself. Mr. Binckley won’t allow anyone but Brandi to help him, and Brandi’s boss Petersen wants to call Binckley’s family to report his recent issues. Brandi urges Petersen to let her take care of him, because she doesn’t want to trouble his family. Petersen tells Brandi that she’s up for a promotion; like Drag Me to Hellwe’ve got yet another looming promotion here. Does this ever happen in real life? Your boss tells you that you’re “up for a promotion” so long as X does or does not happen? And then inevitably X does or does not happen?

rea by you.

The great Stephen Rea plays sadsack Thomas Bardo, who is having one hell of a bad day. He gets kicked out of his apartment and loses all his belongings when he can’t pay the rent. He waits four and a half hours for an appointment at the unemployment agency only to be given the bureaucratic run-around once he finally gets in to see somebody. He tries to grab some shut-eye in a park but gets hassled by a jackhole cop. The only person who shows him a moment of compassion is fellow homeless man Sam who shows him the hobo ropes, offers a few pulls from his flask and even gives Bardo his shopping cart for carting around his few remaining possessions. Sam is the one shining example of humanity in this film; savor his brief role. Especially as he offers the only fresh and original delivery of “that’s what she said” that I’ve heard in a very long time.

cornrows by you.

Brandi decides to go out and celebrate her new almost-promotion in the most responsible way ever: excessive drinking and Ecstasy! After leaving the club and promising to meet her boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby) back at her house, Brandi sways and swerves her way into her car…

…just as Bardo is being forced to move for the second time by another asshole cop to a homeless shelter across town. I’d say spoiler alert, but the poster, title and true story should give you some idea of what happens, no?

mena car 2 by you.

rea stuck by you.

bardo by you.

leg in window by you.

 Brandi flips her shit, then drives home WITH BARDO STILL JACKKNIFED THROUGH HER WINDSHIELD, BLEEDING ON HER PASSENGER SEAT AND BEGGING HER TO TAKE HIM TO THE HOSPITAL. She parks him in her garage, then proceeds to HAVE SEX WITH HER BOYFRIEND WHILE BARDO IS STILL INSIDE HER WINDSHIELD IN HER GARAGE. True story, ladies and gentlemen! When Matt told me this story sounded familiar to him and then looked it up for me, I was absolutely floored. Truth really is more appallingly fucked up than fiction sometimes. Ya heard?

Stuck is the perfect low-budget film: with a main cast of 4, only 3 locations and a streamlined plot spanning just 36 hours, this movie is SLICK. There’s not an ounce of fat on it outside your standard gratuitous sex scene that Gordon just doesn’t seem able to eschew. (Jerry, we kept our eyes peeled for you, but this movie was cunnilingus-free). Although Chante Mallard really did have sex with her boyfriend while a homeless man lay dying in her garage, so I guess it’s not gratuitous so much as sad.

 Stuck is classic Gordon fare: darkly comic, audaciously intense, peppered with dramatic lighting and low, odd angles.

coworkers by you.

It’s also got one element that many other Gordon movies don’t have: excellent acting. BY EVERYONE. The above pretty ladies are boss Petersen, played by Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, and Brandi’s friend Tanya, played by Rukiya Bernard. They’re both believable and interesting, as is Russell Hornsby as Rashid.

mena rashid by you.

Hornsby actually makes a despicable character kind of hilarious here, all “WTF, baby? Why you didn’t tell me there’s a DYING HOBO IN YOUR GARAGE?!” But Mena Suvari and Stephen Rea steal the show. Rea just DESTROYS all of his scenes, most of which take place from this angle:

convo by you.

and Suvari’s panic and hopelessness at the carnage she’s caused to her own life just as things were looking up almost make you feel sorry for this character. For about half a second. Almost. Until she keeps going BACK into her garage to apologize, quickly followed by yelling at Bardo, “Why are you doing this to me? Just go to sleep! You jumped in front of me; this wasn’t my fault, you hear me? THIS ISN’T MY FAULT!” Then you want to slap her bug-eyed and shave those fugly cornrows while you’re at it.

mena stuck by you.

What makes Brandi interesting is the initial characterization Gordon gives us. We see her tenderly cleaning up Mr. Binckley, comforting him and protecting him from mean Nurse Ratched-type Petersen. Gordon loves few things more than a good story about the duality of human nature, and Chante Mallard certainly fits the bill. It would be so easy to write her off as an utter monster, someone completely inhumane, but Gordon reminds us that no person is so easy to define, for good or evil. Brandi may have no brains, and she may have a very hard heart, but this girl has the craziest instinct for self-preservation I’ve ever seen. She’s like a rabbit in a forest fire, just hauling ass through the woods, trying to keep her tail from getting scorched.

Like Drag Me to Hell, Stuck is rather timely with the looming promotion and Bardo’s many misfortunes. The title refers not only to the way he’s stuck like a bug to Brandi’s windshield, but also to the fact that social indifference to the homeless keeps Bardo stuck in his luckless circumstance. Gordon shows cops harassing various homeless people several different times in the film; yet not one officer takes a moment to keep an obviously inebriated woman off the road despite the many opportunities they had to stop her. When Rashid hears that Brandi has hit a homeless person and that there were no witnesses (this is before she gives him the little detail that HE’S IN HER GARAGE), he laughs it off, telling her that although cops want us to believe that we exist in a panopticon, there are certain things anyone can get away with, and killing a homeless person is at the top of the list. “Baby, no one’s gonna give a shit.” The sad truth is that he’s right.

sad homeless by you.

But it’s not all dismal social commentary! Stuck is also good old-fashioned fun and some seriously fine film-making. When Brandi hits Bardo with her car–OMG! That scene is so well done! There’s some wonderfully repugnant gore, of course, and a fight between Brandi and some naked girl Rashid is banging on the side. After Brandi fully KICKS HER ASS OUT, Stuart Gordon has a cute little cameo!

sg cameo by you.

Hi Stu! And Jeffrey Combs does an audio cameo as a completely unhelpful 911 dispatcher when Bardo finally gets brief use of a phone!

grab phone by you.

The nice thing about Stuck is that it’s not really as much of a downer as one might expect. Brandi may have some mad preservation instincts, but Bardo does, too. He’s a fighter, and Gordon and Rea make it fun to watch Bardo fight.

4 Responses to “Stuart Gordon Retrospective: Stuck”

  1. I also liked the concept that the character of Brandi is not all seemingly evil. I mean, a terrible person for sure when bad things happen, but the way the have her interacting with the elderly in the beginning of the film makes you almost feel for her. Of course the true test of a person is when the shit hits the fan and in this case, all I have to say is F-A-I-L. She just seems so much in denial about what’s going on. Beautifully acted Mena (we’re on a first name basis) and everyone else in this film. Bravo.

  2. OH MAN. I did not even know that this was actually the premise behind Stuck. I remember reading with horror the news article a few years ago.

    Speaking for all tenheads out in the world, lay off Suvari’s cornrows! Don’t she, James VanDerBeek, Tyra and I deserve to get stupid hairstyles when vacationing in Cozumel for Spring Break, too??

  3. oh man. i’ve seen the “law & order” version of this story, and even THAT re-telling horrified me. i’m really impressed that stuart gordon (and mena suvari) managed to make the character dimensional and not, well, totally evil (just kiiinda evil).

    random note: my college friend jessica went to high school with mena. apparently, she was v. pretty. and, you guessed it, kinda mean.

  4. I KNEW I should have optioned Chante’s story when I had the chance.

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