Director : Marc Forster
Screenplay : David Benioff
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Ewan McGregor (Sam Foster), Ryan Gosling (Henry Letham), Kate Burton (Mrs. Letham), Naomi Watts (Lila Culpepper), Elizabeth Reaser (Athena), Bob Hoskins (Dr. Leon Patterson), Janeane Garofalo (Dr. Beth Levy), B.D. Wong (Dr. Ren)
Despite all its endeavors to be a shape-shifting glimpse into the collision between life and the afterlife, Marc Forster’s Stay ultimately fails to reach the spiritual heights to which it attains because it is void of life itself. The characters have recognizable human characteristics, but they never come alive on the screen. Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) is so caught up in deploying heavy-handed stylistic tricks at every turn that he forgets that the key to spirituality is a spirit.
The basics of the story go something like this: Henry Letham (Ryan Goslind) is a depressed, possibly suicidal college art student whose regular psychiatrist is out sick and has been replaced by Dr. Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor). Because Sam’s girlfriend, Lila (Naomi Watts), is a recovering suicide with the wrist scars to prove it, he becomes intent on saving Henry from himself (it helps that Henry gives Sam a deadline: he’s going to kill himself at midnight on Saturday, his 21st birthday). This leads Sam on a meandering trip through the slightly nightmarish, not quite real mean streets of New York City, where he encounters various people from Henry’s life, some of whom may or may not be ghosts, or spirits, or something other than flesh-and-blood people.
Production designer Kevin Thompson (Birth) turns every frame into a mini-essay on the mind-numbing appeal of geometrical modernist architecture. The characters inhabit a world made entirely of square and rectangles, which is only the first of many clues that something is slightly off. Either the characters have an unrequited jones for everything Frank Lloyd Wright, or the mise-en-scene is screaming at the top of its lungs for significance. Unfortunately, this “look at me” tendency extends to everything in the film, from Forster’s catchy, but ultimately deadening use of graphic matches for each scene transition to Ewan McGregor’s penchant for highwater pants.
There is an intriguing idea at the core of David Benioff’s (25th Hour) screenplay, albeit one that was more fruitfully mined in Jacob’s Ladder (1990) 15 years ago. Unfortunately, though, the whole film feels like an extended gimmick. There is so much investment in the film’s look and tone and so little affect in terms of the characters and their dilemmas that you spend the whole time just waiting for the other shoe to drop. “What is the big revelation?” we ask and, more importantly, “When are they going to spring it on us?” Narrative tricks work best when we’re not even aware that they’re lurking in the shadows, but Stay dangles its secret in front of the audience like a gaudy, but mostly empty, piñata.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2005 20th Century Fox