The indie-musical has always been a small genre. Occasionally something hits like Once but often musicals crave spectacle. Musicals also have grown increasingly popular since 2017's La La Land. These things work against Stuck, a small-scale musical about strangers who get trapped in a subway car only to connect to each other.
The confined space the film locks itself into lacks the aforementioned spectacle or even the everyday sprawl of a city. The isn't a whole lot of room for the musical numbers to explode into but that doesn't stop writer/director Michael Berry from trying to make the most of the small space. He wants to wring out every drop of meaning out of this story but too often relies on characters telling us exactly how they feel or the problems they have without giving the audience much to chew on.
The thing that does work in the film are a few of the key performances. Breaking Bad fans will get a thrill in seeing Giancarlo Esposito as Lloyd, a wise homeless man who performs many songs. His voice talents are impressive even when the songs fail him. The songs often sound like stock music with on-the-nose lyrics attached to them. It is a shame since Esposito seems so game to belt out a tune. He is joined by Sue (Amy Madigain), a teacher; Alicia (Arden Cho), a student, Caleb (Gerard Canonico) her stalker Ramon (Omar Chaparro) an immigrant, and Eve (Ashanti). Ashanti has the best voice of the bunch here.
Stuck is often too blunt with its message of people connecting. Everyone is dealing with something that you don't know about. That is a fine, noble message but Berry is far too preachy with it. The original musical was meant for the stage and it shows here. There is no nuance. The lack of subtlety makes the film sappy and corny as in Caleb's musical number explaining his admiration for Alicia. Each musical number explores a topic from immigration to racism to sexual abuse to entitlement. Occasionally it works but only in a few of the musical numbers.
Stuck is a well-intended but ultimately ineffective musical. It packs too many broad ideas in its short 77-minute running time. While Esposito and Madigan stand out in their roles, the film is too frantic and perhaps too ambitious for its modest budget.