Reviewed by: The Exile

"Rejecting the literal for the symbolic at every turn, Stay is the kind of film that uses hairstyle to express emotional trajectory."

If someone were to flick on the lights during a screening of Stay, every member of the audience would be wearing an identical expression of openmouthed befuddlement. In fact, watching it can best be described as a journey from "What the?" to "Huh?" in 99 minutes, not bad for a film that seeks to encompass life, death and everything in between.

Our guide through this labyrinth is psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor, radiating Jedi integrity), who lives with his artist girlfriend, Lila (Naomi Watts), in the kind of New York apartment only high-class hookers and Woody Allen can afford. Lila is an emotionally fragile ex-patient, who once attempted suicide, and, having established Sam's weakness for self-destructive personalities, Stay introduces him to another, Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling), a disturbed young man whose initial talent appears to be lurking. Henry sidles into Sam's office one day, claiming to hear voices, and announces his intention to kill himself on his 21st birthday three days hence.

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Rejecting the literal for the symbolic at every turn, Stay is the kind of film that uses hairstyle to express emotional trajectory. As Sam embarks on his quest to save Henry, his elaborately stiffened pompadour begins to wilt and deconstruct. During questioning of Henry's messed-up therapist (Janeane Garofalo) and eerily distracted mother (Kate Burton), Sam and his hair become increasingly unglued.

But Sam's tonsorial issues are the least of his problems. Haunted by recurring images - a burning car, an untethered balloon - and events that replay as though time were on a loop, he is increasingly unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy. And then there is Henry. What do you do with a patient who can summon hailstones, cure blindness and open head wounds at will?

An eclectic director who flits from downbeat drama (Monster's Ball) to fey fairytale (Finding Neverland) with equal disregard for authenticity, Marc Forster typically uses slick surfaces to distract from the lack of substance in his films. Stay is more of the same: sweeping shots of an Escher-ised New York, all weird angles and alien perspectives. Much of this is quite beautiful, and cinematographer Roberto Schaefer and production designer Kevin Thompson create a cold and soulless city of steel and glass and spiral staircases that twist into infinity. There is no privacy anywhere. Windows are uncovered, or nonexistent, creating a lack of boundaries that heightens the atmosphere of derangement. Telescoping time and location - New Yorkers will notice that buildings which would normally be miles apart have suddenly moved next door to each other - Schaefer and Thompson seem to be guiding us into another dimension entirely.

Unfortunately, Stay has no idea what to do with us once we're there. Both the screenplay by The 25th Hour's David Benioff and the direction proceed with a near total disregard for narrative structure. In fact, the film is little more than an endless string of questions without answers. Why do we see multiple sets of twins and triplets everywhere? Why is Lila's painting signed "Henry Letham"? Why do none of Sam's trousers cover his ankles?

Not until the the jaw-droppingly inane finale on the Brooklyn Bridge are we put out of our misery, as the film attempts to realise its theme of spiritual and corporeal convergence. All I can say is that the "Forgive me," which Henry scribbles obsessively on his apartment walls, would have been better employed as an endnote from Forster himself.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2006
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A psychiatrist tries to stop a young man committing suicide on his 21st birthday.
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Read more Stay reviews:

Anton Bitel ****

Director: Marc Forster

Writer: David Benioff

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Bob Hoskins, Janeane Garofalo, Kate Burton, Elizabeth Reaser, BD Wong

Year: 2005

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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25th Hour
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