Hippo Manchester
October 27, 2005

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Stay (R)
by Amy Diaz   adiaz@hippopress.com

Ewan McGregor pushes the limits of his charm in Stay, a graceless suspense movie that puts more effort into its big twist ending than it does into the whole rest of the movie.

We know the movie will end with a twist as every scene is jam-packed with visual clues like crazy-ill-fitting pants (which McGregor nonetheless wears well) and sets of identically dressed twins and triplets. Neat, you think the first time you see it. Oh, brother, this can’t end well, you think the fifth time.

Sam (McGregor) is a psychiatrist who takes a few patients for an ailing colleague. One of those patients is Henry (Ryan Gosling), a too-cool-for-hair-grooming art student with suicidal thoughts and a defeatist attitude. And a possible ability to tell the future.

Sam is intrigued by the boy, in part because of his suicidal patient-turned-girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts). She’s also an artist. She’s over her depression, maybe, mostly, and Sam plans to marry her, probably. His desire to save Henry seems, in part, a desire to prove that such a person can be saved, that, say, marrying such a person isn’t just a fruitless exercise.

But, as the movie progresses, other things become clear. Henry knows too much for just your average crazy student — is he psychic? Is he dead? Is he just a physical manifestation of someone else’s subconscious — Sam, Lila, another psychiatrist played by Janeane Garafalo with a truly horrific blonde dye job?

It’s at about this point when all the razzle-dazzle of M.C. Escher-like-staircases and the proliferation of visual patterns start to overtake whatever plot the movie might have started out with. I began to get the distinct feeling that the movie was not just telling its story with an overemphasis on mystery but seriously jerking me around. We are given tiny scraps of dialogue, bits of images, pieces of a story and asked to remember them with little explanation as to why we should bother or what it will ultimately get us. It’s like when your mom asks you to hold a shopping bag, just for a moment, and an hour later you realize you’ve been suckered into carrying half-a-dozen packages all over the mall.

“Neener, neener, made you look,” the movie says in its final moments. Well, yeah, of course you made us look; you’re the movie, we’re the audience. We paid to look and our money should have bought us more than what amounts to some cheap, magic-for-beginners sleight of hand.