Stay review by Mike Long

Hollywood is often accused of making "dumb" movies. Actually, it often seems that every successful film is slighted for being low-brow entertainment which requires little-to-no thought whatsoever. (I, for one, disagree with this theory, as I'm convinced that much more thought must go into writing a successful science-fiction, horror, or action film.) Thus, when a truly smart movie comes along, it can either be misinterpreted or overlooked by the movie-going public. Stay is a smart movie which demands the undivided attention of the viewer. In fact, this headache-inducing film may be too smart for its own good.

In Stay, we meet Dr. Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor), a psychiatrist who is filling in at a college counseling center. There, he meets an odd art student named Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling). Henry is a distant young man, who mutters about having hurt people. Much to Sam's horror, Henry announces that he plans on committing suicide. Before Sam can do anything about this, Henry is gone. Sam confides in his girlfriend, Lila (Naomi Watts), and decides that he must find Henry and stop him from killing himself. But, as Sam pursues Henry, he finds his world beginning to change and he begins to question reality. With the hour of Henry's self-inflicted death drawing nearer, Sam must traverse constantly shifting locations and ghostly individuals in order to save the young man's life.

Stay falls squarely into the genre of what I like to call "mindf*&k" movies. These films concern characters who start the story in a seemingly normal reality and as the movie progresses, their reality begins to shift and change, and (in most of these films) neither the character nor the audience know what is real. These films also often carry a twist ending which ties everything together. Stay bucks this trend by having twisted reality nearly from the beginning. From the moment that Sam and Henry meet, the viewer gets the feeling that something isn't quite right with the movie. This feeling is further accentuated by the editing style of the film. Director Mark Forster has opted to not cut from scene to scene, but rather to have scenes dissolve together or to have the characters suddenly be in the location where the next scene is occurring. This heightens the dreamlike quality of the film. And, true to the genre, as the movie progresses, things become weirder and weirder and we aren't sure where Sam's journey is going to end.

Which leads us to Stay's two main flaws. For the first hour or so, Stay is riveting and engaging. As the film feeds clues to the audience, we (knowing the rules of a "mindf*&k" movie) attempt to figure out what is happening to the characters. However, the movie doesn't give us quite enough info to make sense of it all. There is one brief shot in the final act which solidified one theory that I had, but I never had any confidence in my idea given the overly random feel of the movie. As noted above, it's expected for reality to unravel in these films, but it unravels too quickly in Stay, making the movie confusing as opposed to compelling. And then there's the twist ending. The twist is good and when it occurs, it's momentarily satisfying. (Mostly due to the fact that it recalls one very famous film and one cult "mindf*&k" movie.) But after a few moments, the viewer realizes that the movie was pointing towards so many different possible conclusions and contains so many characters, that the ending is unsatisfying, and for that matter, any ending may have been unsatisfying. Repeat viewing reveals that the movie does follow a set of rules and that the ending holds up under scrutiny, but this payoff only occurs for the most patient and attentive viewer. The movie contains many subtle and minute details which may escape the casual viewer. Stay is a perfect movie for DVD, as you can watch it in the comfort of your own home with no distractions. However, this isn't the kind of movie which one can watch while doing chores as the visuals tell much of the story.

Stay is a promising and intriguing film which will frustrate some viewers. I'm a fan of this kind of film and I jump at a chance to see any movie which fits into the Jacob's Ladder vein of movies. But, Stay allows its slack grip on reality to get out of control, making for a film which can be inscrutable at times. The actors in the film are very good and director Mark Forster has given the film a fantastic look, but only the most patient audience members will embrace this movie.

Stay wanders onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the full-screen and widescreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as the picture is sharp and clear. There is no overt grain on the image and it is never overly dark. The colors are good and there are no signs of extraneous artifacting. The DVD carries a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The movie contains an abundance of surround sound and subwoofer effects, most of which come during the scene transitions. There is also rain during the finale which fills the surround speakers.

The DVD contains a smatter on extra features. The "Widescreen" side of the DVD contains two scene-specific commentaries. The first features director Marc Forster and actor Ryan Gosling, where they discuss five scenes. The second has Forster with editor Matt Chesse, second unit director Kevin Tod Haug, and cinematographer Roberto Schaefer, and they talk about seven scenes. Both of these commentaries are interesting and contain some facts which are worth hearing, but one can't help but wonder why they didn't discuss the whole film and how/why these scenes were chosen. "Departing Visions" (7 minutes) is a brief documentary which examines individuals who have had near-death experiences. The "fullscreen" side offers "The Music of Stay" where the four composers who worked on the film discuss their musical styles and the instruments which were used. This side also has the "Theatrical Trailer" for the movie.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

blog comments powered by Disqus