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Stay (2005)

Reviewed By Robert Flaxman
Posted 11/12/05 22:26:22

"Stay away."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Have you ever seen a movie that wanted you to know its surprise going in? Neither had I, but apparently Stay is such a movie. The trailer makes the main characterís fate fairly clear, and director Marc Forster believes that the audience should know, going in, that the film is not set in reality. Between that and the car crash that opens the film, it should, in theory, be easy enough to figure out whatís going on.

What Forster and company donít seem to realize is that films with surprise endings tend to have them for a reason; the audience gets to try and guess what the resolution will be, and then can be surprised or not (if it was easy to divine). The problem with Stay is that it hangs around for 100 minutes even though itís already suggested to us how itís going to end.

Following the crash, we see Henry (Ryan Gosling) sitting next to his burning car. Eventually he gets up and walks off, and shortly thereafter we are introduced to Sam (Ewan McGregor), a psychiatrist who is taking over Henryís case. Henry announces that he is going to kill himself on Saturday at midnight.

Itís hard to discuss Stay because itís not clear what should remain a secret and what the filmmakers think people should know anyway. The unreality of the filmís setting is clearly some sort of limbo between life and death, and itís easy enough to guess that Henry is the character in that limbo Ė or is he? After all, Sam is the main character, and various scenes suggest that Sam and Henry may not even be different people.

In fact Ė as revealed by Forster in an interview on MTV.com Ė the limbo is really Henryís pre-death dream, and the characters in it are all aspects of himself, their appearances pulled from the people who show up at the scene of the accident (only revealed at the end of the film). Normally I would think that this shouldnít be mentioned in a review, but if even the director doesnít care, why should I?

Maybe thatís why no one went to see Stay Ė itís a movie that structures itself to have twists, but was made by people desperate to give those twists away before you walk into the theater. Really, what was the point of even making it the way Forster did? Itís possible to structure a film about death so that it isnít a surprise Ė one that jumps to mind is What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams, although of course that one wasnít a hit at the box office either Ė so why didnít Forster go down that road? Instead, he attempts to drag out the surprises. Why does Gosling claim that his parents are dead when they appear to be alive? Why do peopleís heads keep bleeding? Why are there sets of twins everywhere? Why do things keep repeating?

I suppose the idea is that the audience gets to try and figure these things out based on what it knows when it enters the theater. But if that was the intention, the structure of the film should have made things more clear. Instead, Forster strings us along, and anyone not lucky enough to hear his pronouncement is in the dark, with little sense for what is supposed to be going on and without the information necessary to really process it.

More problematically, there just isnít that much going on for most of Stay. Even while ostensibly presenting clues to the exact nature of its reality, the film is plodding and rarely compelling; the dialogue given to its characters is stunningly banal and often embarrassingly expository. Given where it goes, itís possible that this was an intentional move on the part of Forster and writer David Benioff (25th Hour), but that doesnít make it interesting or entertaining, especially if the director didnít warn you ahead of time.

Ultimately, Stay is too contradictory for its own good. It wants you to know what happens, but sets up as though itís going to surprise; it wants to be about Henryís trip to limbo, but doesnít have a lot of content there; it wants to be an examination of loss, but spends too much time on other angles. All told, thereís both too much going on in Stay and, at the same time, not nearly enough.

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