Stay (2005) / Drama-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for language and mild drug references
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling, Naomi Watts, Bob Hoskins, Janeane Garofalo, B.D. Wong, Kate Burton, Elizabeth Reaser
Director: Marc Foster
Screenplay: David Benioff
Review published December 12, 2005

Here is one of those reviews where those that have seen the film before coming to my site will most likely think that I'm being either too generous or not generous enough.  The reason why is very simple: it has the star power to draw a wider audience than the subject matter and the approach generally calls for.  This is a twisty, and somewhat gimmicky, mystery that requires you to have the time, patience, and mental stamina to stay with it to the very end, where it finally reveals just what's going on, only in a way that may not be entirely obvious to viewers that didn't know they were getting into a mess-with-your mind thriller going into it.  If you like those kinds of movies that are really somewhat of a puzzle to put together, a la Jacob's Ladder and its brethren, it's pretty good for its mini-genre.  Viewers not willing or able to sit through a you-solve-it-yourself mystery should skip it, or you'll find it too frustrating or pretentious to endure.

The films starts off with Ewan McGregor (The Island, Revenge of the Sith) playing Sam Foster, a psychologist filling in for a fellow doctor, who becomes enrapt in the welfare of a particular patient, a potential suicide named Henry Latham (Gosling, The Notebook).  In an effort to try to stop the young man from taking his own life, Foster tries to dig up just what might be ailing home, and come up with some reason or hope that will make the determined guy decide to stay in the world of the living. 

Stay is really an art house film promoted as a straightforward thriller, and one wonders what the creative minds at Fox were thinking when they bestowed such a low overhead piece a rather sizable $50 million dollar budget to work with.  By all appearances, much of this budget was utilized to secure some appealing actors to play in it, but this appears to b another miscalculation, as the inclusion of McGregor, Gosling, and Watts (The Ring Two, I Heart Huckabees) tends to bring in a different demographic than this type of movie generally would draw, resulting in bad word of mouth that saw its release limited to just one or two weeks in most locales. There is an audience for this kind of movie, but with confusing advertising, they never did seem to find it, while those that did were of the mainstream moviegoer variety, resulting in a DOA at the box office (a mere $3.5 million grossed).

Stay should earn an avid core of fans over the years, especially among viewers that feel a sense of reward for figuring out answers to clues in movies that aren't readily apparent in their meanings.  The direction by Marc Forster, who has been on a roll with Academy Award caliber films like Finding Neverland and Monster's Ball, is brilliant, full of clever segues and excellent understanding of David Benioff's (Troy, The 25th Hour) esoteric script, reportedly the first he'd ever sold.

While Stay is fascinating at times, and benefits from some very good performances, it ultimately does follow a path we've been down before in films of late, and the fact that it really isn't incredibly difficult to glean what it's all about is both a blessing and a curse to its ability to entertain.  If you're in the mood for a reasonably intelligent mental exercise, it's recommended.  If not, it's doubtful you'll choose to adhere to the film's title to the very end.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo