2005, R, 99 min. Directed by Marc Forster. Starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Bob Hoskins, Janeane Garofalo, Elizabeth Reaser, B.D. Wong, Kate Burton.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 21, 2005
An ambitious experiment that never quite jells, Stay is the cinematic equivalent of crème brûlée, deliciously ethereal when it works but downright difficult to swallow when it doesn’t. If you’ve seen the trailers (which feel like they’ve been unspooling for months now), you know exactly as much going in as I did coming out. It’s not that Stay, with its lofty Freudian rhetoric and hyper-stylized visuals, is a bad movie, per se, it’s just that Forster (Monster’s Ball), working from a script by David Benioff (25th Hour), allows the story to get away from him. And in a film that deals with life, death, and everything in between, that makes for a serious case of identity crisis. McGregor plays Sam Foster, a psychiatrist who shares a spectacularly overdesigned New York City loft with artist girlfriend Lila. When a painfully thin, pale new wisp of a patient named Henry Letham (Gosling) appears in his office and announces his impending suicide, Sam assumes he’s been referred by the ailing Dr. Levy (Garofalo). But a steadily mounting web of coincidences and omens soon has him looking for answers far beyond his rational training and deep within a surreal landscape where reality is as tenuous and dim as a five-watt filament. Forster’s film is about identity and what, exactly, it means to have one. It’s been marketed as a horror film, but that’s misleading; Stay is more along the lines of a psychological fever dream, one in which everything is symbolic and nothing is real. Or not. It’s hard to tell, as Sam blunders along trying to figure out who Henry Letham really is, what we’re meant to accept at face value (Nothing? Everything? Does the director even know?), and what is merely symptomatic of Henry and Sam’s bizarre relationship. And what’s Janeane Garofalo doing here anyway? If nothing else, Stay is a visual tour de force; cinematographer Roberto Schaefer (Robert Rodriguez’s Roadracers) gives New York City the once over twice and ends up painting the burg in the gloomiest of melancholic color schemes. Over and over, Forster uses shots of reflective images in his between-scene dissolves, a technique that quickly wears thin. Thankfully, McGregor, Watts, and most of all, Gosling, immerse themselves in their roles and add a much-needed element of reality to what is in all other areas a fugue-like storyline. Gosling’s turn as the suicidal Henry is downright creepy; the actor seems to have dug so far into his character you wonder if he’ll ever be able to claw his way out. Forster should be commended for attempting something as daunting as the overreaching Stay, which despite all of its muddled logic and porous reality – or perhaps because of it – forces you to think, a genuine rarity these days.