Let's Do the Mind Warp Again
Watching the surreal Stay for a second time may not have ended up improving my rating of it much over the first go-around, but at least this time I didn't feel like returning it to the video store via an angry hurl through the front window.
In this messed-up mindtrip, Ewan McGregor plays Sam Foster, a psychiatrist living happily with his girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts), a once-suicidal artist who used to be his patient. With a colleague having taken sick leave, Sam finds himself taking care of her patients, one of whom is a brooding young art student named Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling). Seeing firsthand his strange ability to predict the weather and hear words moments before they're spoken, Sam quickly comes to realize that Henry isn't just another depressed college kid.
Things take a turn for the dark and dangerous when Henry confesses that he plans to kill himself in three days, on the night of his 21st birthday. Henry disappears soon afterwards, sending Sam on a quest to find him before he does any damage to himself or others. Unfortunately, Sam soon finds out that he's heading down a bizarre road where nothing is as it seems, where people once thought dead are alive and well, and where seeing is far from believing.
The trouble with Stay isn't that it's too confusing for its own good. The film is a pretty straightforward thriller when you think about it, one with the usual assortment of bizarre situations and the standard "big twist" at the end, but it's the tricks that director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) uses to spice up the proceedings that transforms Stay into a jumble difficult to watch, purely on a visual level. Instead of incorporating the usual kinds of scene transitions, Stay takes a more trippy approach in using split-second editing, jumping from scene to scene by having characters morph suddenly into others and walk into different environments in a heartbeat. That scene is then re-started a few times before finally getting it over with completely. It's a novel idea for the first two minutes, but after that, this approach becomes almost too hard on the eyes, causing the film to adopt a jarring and highly annoying visual style.
When you look past this aspect of Stay (which is no easy task), you still end up with a thriller that tries to be too complex. The film spends the entire running time trying to pretend it has no idea how the events will come to a close, even though the most casual moviegoer will have the whole story plotted out by the middle of the first act. Random characters (such as Janeane Garofalo's depressed psychiatrist and Bob Hoskins' blind doctor) float in and out of the picture, and although, without giving anything away, it all fits in with the finale's twist revelation, I couldn't help wondering why this specific turn of events had to take place.
The film's few saving graces are its performances, with convincing turns from McGregor as the confused doctor, Gosling as his moody patient, and Watts, who makes the best out of a fairly tiny role, as a woman with a damaged psyche not unlike Henry's. It's too bad most of the supporting players get the shaft, floating onscreen for a few moments and off again before we get a chance to become involved with their characters.
If Stay had cut back on the visual gimmickery and given more attention to its characters and plotting, it could've been a nifty, engaging thriller. Instead, this disappointing movie goes for broke by putting all its efforts into a weird appearance, thereby losing not only most of its soul but also the interest of many viewers like me.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "R" for language and some disturbing images.)