In Stay, the director, Marc Foster, fresh from Finding Neverland, turns Manhattan into a nightmarish dreamscape and his characters into self-destructive ghosts.
Ewan McGregor plays a high-powered shrink who doubles as a university psychiatrist. He's happy in his double professional life and in his private life with a once-suicidal painter (Naomi Watts) until he takes over the treatment of a haunted-looking art student (Ryan Gosling) who intends to kill himself on his 21st birthday. Soon, every aspect of the hero's existence funnels into the patient's psychic vortex.
With Gosling as his seer, McGregor navigates a Manhattan that's like a brightly lit and densely populated limbo. But the movie becomes predictably unpredictable. You just wait for a live character to reveal a tell-tale bleeding wound.
Director Foster's attempt to create a horror movie out of glinting suggestions and bizarre associations and surprises deserves applause. David Benioff's script is the culprit; it wavers between the trite and the obtuse. All sorts of talented performers show up for this monster's ball, including Bob Hoskins as McGregor's blind mentor (and, Gosling insists, his dad) and Janeane Garofalo as Gosling's former shrink, now laid up with despair and fatigue. Yet their parts are so portentous they wear out their welcome near-immediately.
Foster uses the city as his own canvas for disquieting, dislocating effects, linking dizzying architecture from different eras and deploying fluid camera angles and editing to create a Coney Island of the mind. Still, there's no way for most of the actors to gain traction on the would-be Wonder Wheel of the core plot.
The film stretches McGregor's civilized concern and Gosling's doominess to the fraying point. Only the ever-glorious Watts, who goes so deep she makes melancholy irresistible and luminous, serves as a guide-light to the audience. However, Watts can't redeem a climax that turns the entire picture into an upbeat/downbeat fantasy that could be called It's a Wonderful Death.
Stay (20th Cent. Fox)
Starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and Ryan Gosling.
Directed by Marc Foster.
Time 99 minutes