Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Formulaic Independent, Why Stay Disappoints.

The Good: Scenery, Acting
The Bad: Painfully predictable plot and character arcs
The Basics: Moody and predictable, Stay both epitomizes and defies the conventions of the independent film.

One of the truly wonderful things about independent cinema – and, when applicable, not reading the books upon which an indie film is based – is that such films have the potential to go in any direction and, unlike most mainstream movies, they tend to actually go in more original directions. With Stay, the potential for surprise and originality diminishes with almost every minute. Stay is Taylor Schilling’s first major film project since her success with the first season of Orange Is The New Black (reviewed here!), but the movie does not afford her much in the way of opportunities to showcase any additional talents she possesses as a performer.

Having not read the novel upon which Stay is based, I cannot provide any concrete analysis as to how the movie stacks up against the book. That said, there are elements of the film that are presented so obviously on screen that one may only hope that they worked better in the novel. In a film about a man who loathes the idea of having his own children, the only point of a sustained plotline involving him interacting with a boy is to soften him to the concept of having a kid of his own. About A Boy (reviewed here!) executed the idea fairly well; Stay does not. Unfortunately, the moment the camera starts following Sean around, the viewer has to figure that he will act as a conduit for the crotchety older man’s character growth and that Dermot does not send the kid packing pretty much immediately makes no real sense in the film. Instead of being an audacious film, Stay feels like a formulaic novel put on screen; early in the movie there is foreshadowing to past events, a diary pops up, conversations are had, and all the truths come out to give the characters greater understanding of themselves and what they truly want in life. While this is pretty much essential to all storytelling, most films (and books) today have some subtlety and sophistication to them. Stay does not; it’s a movie that pretty much perfectly embodies the formula.

Opening in Ireland with Dermot bringing his student and lover, Abbey, breakfast in bed, Abbey has a sense that things are not quite right. She goes into town, where she discovers getting a job will be hard with the stigma attached to her relationship with her and Dermot, Abbey picks up a pregnancy test and discovers she is pregnant. With Dermot eager to continue enjoying his life the way it has been, Abby tiptoes around telling him and when he finds the pregnancy test, the two have a falling out. While Abbey makes the trek back to Montreal, Dermot’s mail carrier dies and her pregnant daughter Deirdre returns to the village for the viewing. When Deirdre goes into labor at her dead mother’s side, Dermot has to help deliver the baby.

Abbey returns home to discover her father has broken his arm and is generally as surly as she remembers. In discussing Dermot’s desperate proposal to her, Abbey’s father quickly realizes his daughter is pregnant. Frank actually likes the idea of a grandchild and tries to get Abbey to stay in Canada while Dermot puts up with Sean, a local schoolboy, insisting on building a fence for him (ostensibly Sean is trying to help his family out given that his father has just taken a bath on a bed and breakfast when investors disappeared on him). Abbey debates keeping the fetus when her mother’s diary turns up and informs her exactly why her mother abandoned her and her father, which puts her in an emotional tailspin. Dermot reveals to Sean why he lives in exile in the middle of nowhere and he finds himself helping Deirdre out with her new son. Independent of one another, Abbey and Dermot come to realize what they want out of life and their relationship.

Sean is a pretty obvious character for the themes of the film and it is unfortunate that Dermot’s character is undermined so quickly after he is established. Sean’s whole purpose is to teach Dermot one of the film’s Valuable Life Lessons and the youth lacks the charisma or intelligence to be a valuable life teacher. There are no defining characteristics of Sean that set him apart from young people in a way that would make him defy the expectations Dermot has for children, so how this particular kid gets under his skin makes no real sense.

Furthermore, Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s direction is annoyingly unclear in establishing Dermot’s character. After Abbey decides to go home, the reasonable expectation is that Dermot is driving Abbey to the airport. And yet, Dermot drops Abbey off by the side of the road to hike. It’s a pretty dick move for a man to strand his pregnant lover on the side of the road to walk to a bus station, which is fine. Dermot is free to be an asshole, if that’s what he is supposed to be. But, if that’s the case, it makes his taking Sean under his wing all the more inexplicable.

For all the issues with Stay, the acting is good. Aiden Quinn’s face when Abbey tells Dermot that she wants to go home to “get perspective on things” is priceless. Taylor Schilling is given more to do than to stare at the camera and look dumbfounded. Abbey might not be the most interesting character for her to portray, but she does it well. Michael Ironside plays Frank without a hint of smugness – every other character I’ve seen him play is smart, powerful, and smug beyond belief, so this was very much a departure for him – and Barry Keoghan plays off Quinn very well.

Ultimately, Stay is not a bad film, but it plods along until its inevitable end and its plot and character direction seems far more obvious than audacious, making it less pleasant to make the journey. For a more interesting indie film with pregnancy, irresponsible men, and a lot more character, check out Waitress (reviewed here!).

For other works with Taylor Schilling, please check out my reviews of:
Orange Is The New Black - Season Two
The Lucky One


For other movie reviews, please visit my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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