Final Rating: 4.8/10
Director: Wiebke von Carolsfeld
Actors: Taylor Schilling, Aidan Quinn, Michael Ironside
Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s last feature fiction film was released back in 2002: A film called Marion Bridge. Her work may not be well known to the general public, but it seems like she likes it that way. Her limited, yet personal, resume indicates that she only wants to work when she wants to work, and as an artist that is certainly admirable. It doesn’t mean that she’s lazy. It just means she is true to herself and to her craft. Having seen her present her newest film Stay at the Toronto International Film Festival, I could see the love she had for her project; A real, candid love. Stay is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by Aislinn Hunter, and it is a reflection of ones position in society. Who are we to others? Do our roles shift when new challenges arise? Much like the bog body (we’ll get to that soon) in the movie, this theme is merely scratched and is never truly dug up. Stay, ironically, feels like a movie that is with us and in the moment at first but begins to flee away from us to just wrap everything up.
Lead by Taylor Schilling and Aidan Quinn as a boyfriend and girlfriend, Stay starts off with Schilling’s character, a Canadian studying in Ireland, discovering that she is pregnant. Quinn’s character disapproves of this change of events, and the couple decide to take a break from one another for an undetermined period of time. This break is prolonged by stupid mistakes, like having the phone unplugged and thus missing a slew of calls. Of course there are reasons for these hinderances (Quinn having a tantrum and tossing the phone and thus unplugging it, for example), but they seem shallow, too coincidental and unfortunately lazy. These kinds of mistakes happen all of the time in real life, but a movie like Stay that is trying to get across a statement on human connectivity should not resort to easy mess ups to continue the story. Having something bolder would instill the theme with much more depth. Why couldn’t Quinn have answered the phone, angrily hung up on Schilling, and try to reach her back without her wanting to pick up the phone? That would have shown more sides to their personalities and instincts rather than show how unobservant one can be.
Nonetheless, Schilling takes her leave of absence from Ireland back home in Canada. Her father, played by Michael Ironside, tries to welcome the fact that his daughter is pregnant which only makes her question if she really wants the baby or not even more. Now, this is more like it. We see simple discussions carrying out the thought processes of the characters, and in a movie like Stay where we are supposed to analyze the characters and their choices, this is much more beneficial.
Unfortunately, the movie isn’t as much about the defining plot point at the start as you would think. You know, the discovery that separated the couple? It doesn’t play a big part in Quinn’s side of the story, and his part seems to be even more dominant. He stays behind in Ireland where he deals with a number of people ranging from a young boy who builds a fence for him, to a single woman giving birth next to a dead woman during a wake (it happens), to even finding a dead body which is referred to as the bog body. He develops a friendship with the boy, the new mother, and an old friend that helps him dig up the body, but who cares? Perhaps he picks up a fatherly role with the younger two people, and he decides it’s “time to grow up” as the film goes on which implies that he is ready to be a father, but he never truly honestly proves this. The new mom never faces any huge issues he has to take care of apart from the actual birth itself (which doesn’t make him more fatherly but just a nice person), he just shares similarities with the young buy but never anything worth much notice (I don’t recall the fence ever being finished either), and guess what? The body is never truly dug up. It just sits there. The metaphor of rediscovering one’s past (why is this there again? Shouldn’t he work on going forwards?) is plopped into the film as if it is supposed to mean something more.
Then there is the very rushed ending that may as well have happened at any time during Quinn’s story, which I don’t feel like getting into, but trust me, it’s not worth it.
What’s the biggest shame is that the movie started off exceptionally well, actually. We see Schilling and Quinn together with brilliant chemistry. Schilling plays off being a fish out of water effortlessly, and it is a concern I would have loved to have seen a lot more of (yet she escapes to Canada rather quickly so we never really do. She doesn’t stick out like an outsider in Canada, either). The colours used are so expertly chosen and every shot feels like a drawing in a children’s folklore picture book. That is until Schilling returns to Canada. The contrasting colours in Canada and Ireland are nice at first, but they end up drowning out any sort of cinematographical unity within each respective country, so there isn’t a reason to have created any colour scheme in the first place. The acting is great throughout the movie, and that is the only thing that keeps this movie going. Schilling just proves that she will one day reach a lot of acclaim as she throws in so many subtle nuances. Sadly that movie won’t be Stay.
Now, von Carolsfeld clearly did put some work into this movie. It is clear with how dearly she held this movie to her heart as she made it. The end result, unfortunately, feels very unbalanced and lacking of any consistency. The movie is darkly funny at times, and at other times it treats issues that aren’t nearly as serious as those it mocks with much more concern. It starts off gorgeous and profound, becomes typical and somehow ends nonsensically. I’m not sure if it is because Wiebke von Carolsfeld has lost grasp of how to piece together a film after so many years, but Stay did not work. At all. It had a lot of promise and you can see that she knows how to make a movie because Stay looks like it tries to be good and say something. It feels like a story an old relative may say to you. You start off being interested, and you find yourself nodding your head aimlessly as it goes on and gets more boring and off track. In the end, you only stay (pun intended) because the story comes from a warm place and was told to you on a personal level and you don’t mean to be rude, not because it was worth hearing.