Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Hoskins
Director: Mark Forster
The biggest problem with “Stay” is that going in, you know that there’s a hook, that you can’t believe everything you see yet must pay attention to every little detail. Do these movies ever live up to the payoff? Every once in a while, like in “The Sixth Sense.” But what helped that movie was how grounded it was; at its core was a story that wasn’t about ghosts but people and their inability to communicate. “Stay” has no such foundation, and as a result it flails a lot. As for the hook, well, at the risk of giving away too much, it turns out to be as old as the wind.
The movie begins with Dr. Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor), a psychiatrist who meets a new patient, Henry (Ryan Gosling). Henry doesn’t trust Sam at all, yet doesn’t stop visiting him. Sam’s girlfriend, Lila (Naomi Watts), is an artist who once tried to kill herself. It turns out she and Henry have something in common, as Henry openly tells Sam that he plans on killing himself on his 21st birthday, which is the upcoming Saturday. Sam obviously wants to prevent this, but in the process of learning more about Henry’s life, he finds inconsistencies in Henry’s story. Soon, those inconsistencies begin to spill into Sam’s life. He sees the exact same chain of events happen on two different days. Sometimes there are gaps in time, and in other moments time seems to stand still. Sam begins to question his own sanity, and is soon obsessed with saving Henry, even though Sam may be the one that needs saving.
The camera work is downright exhausting. It’s a series of startling edits, high speed photo montages, and music video style scene jumps that are meant to keep the viewer off kilter. They all have a purpose, of course, and that is part of the problem. The movie telegraphs its conclusion far too early, when it actually thinks it’s distracting us from it. (Movies may have gotten dumber, but audiences have gotten smarter, and filmmakers would be wise to realize that.) McGregor and Watts aren’t really acting so much as playing a part, and that is to their credit, given the circumstances. Gosling is annoying and histrionic, and then unreasonably cool, but again, there’s a reason for that as well. Does this sound at all familiar? It’s because this movie has been done before, and not too long ago. I won’t reveal its title here, but if you want a hint (Spoiler alert! Stop reading now if you don’t want to know), two very different bands used it for a song title in the ‘80s. The inspiration for that movie, though, dates back to the late 1800’s. Research at your own risk.
“Stay” isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not a terribly original one. Sure, there are aspects of it that its predecessors didn’t do, but that was more due to the limitations in technology than the desire to do it. Certain stories have endured in filmmaking, and you can count on them being rehashed every decade, but they are ones that can not only survive a successful makeover but thrive on one (“Cyrano de Bergerac,” “The Taming of the Shrew”). The origin of “Stay,” as much as people seem to love bringing it back to life, is not an easy one to dress up without revealing what lies beneath.
The single-disc DVD release of "Stay" features scene-specific commentary with director Mark Forster and Ryan Golsing, and a featurette ("Departing Visions") about Near Death Experiences.