SCREENED AT THE 2006 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: No one is going to confuse Marc Forster’s ridiculous mindbender with the relationship stylings of writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait. On the other hand, Forster’s film may have actually benefited by making its big secret a woman blowing a dog. Yep, there’s little other way to put it, but the catalyst of Goldthwait’s romantic dramedy is a woman who on a stupid whim in college gave her doggie some pleasure in a manner that is still illegal for humans to do in several Southern borders. Such an outrageous premise is precisely what you might expect from the comedian who brought us Shakes the Clown and the criminally underseen, Windy City Heat. Only this time out, Bobcat has a few issues on his mind to work out and it has trouble meshing with the Meet the Parents scenario he’s crafted.Sure, Amy (Melinda Page Hamilton) experimented in college (“I don’t know why…”) but she’s now in a committed relationship with John (Bryce Johnson). Despite daily reminders of her canine indiscretion, Amy has kept that moment in time under wraps and would rather involve her best friend in a concocted lesbian tryst in a game of truth-telling with her fiancé than try to explain her doggie cum tasted. The happy couple go visit her family where brother Dougie (Jack Plotnick) is doped up, Dad (Geoffrey Pierson) seems poised to give John a hard time and Mom (Bonita Friedericy) reveals past encounters involving Roy Orbison and Elvis; the latter involving a fantasy that won’t come as much of a shock to anyone who read Bob Zmuda’s biography of Andy Kaufman.
Like Kaufman’s antics, Goldthwait’s script for Stay is part shock and part truth in an attempt to explore the ancient art of truth-telling. Only it can never decide whether it wants to shock or open up. Taking his previous work out of the equation, just by opening with the implied sexual encounter promises the kind of outrageousness we’ve come to expect out of filmmakers like the Farrellys or the Zuckers. Shifting into an area where the comedy is light and later when the drama gets extra-thick doesn’t work for the material. Goldthwait may have been best served by not just keeping Amy’s transgression oblique but secret even to us. That way we could identify with John’s reaction (over or not) by hearing it for the first time and forcing us to submit to our own levels of judgment if it was our significant other.
As is now, the moment comes as no shock to us because we’ve had time to come to terms with it as Amy has. Since we know little more about John than his tendency to smoke, curse and chew cum cookies back in college and Johnson’s performance makes him even blander than that, we can’t fully believe his reaction nor label him a jerk even as he really comes off as one. And we’re only halfway through the film leaving time for Amy to do more than cry on the shoulder of a co-worker, an even graver shift in tone and way too much time reflecting on the consequences of Amy’s choices.The film does have some laughs, but because most of them err on the side of absurdity, it’s hard to accept its other side of sincerity. Stay would have been fine if it had really sunk its teeth into the proverbial skeletons and who should have access to its keys. Isn’t everyone entitled to a few missteps and then the luxury of not embarrassing themselves or others further? The final line of the film is far wiser than the person who first discovered that “honesty” and “policy” rhymed. It’s too bad it’s an afterthought instead of an exclamation point.