Stacy Grouden reports from the screening of Wiebe von Carolsfeld’s latest drama Stay.
The title of Wiebe von Carolsfeld’s latest drama Stay suggests a longing, a desire for stasis and stability, and follows its cast of characters as they seek to get somewhere they can comfortably remain. If your gut reaction to this is that the quest for equilibrium for the sake of equilibrium seems antithetical to drama, you might be on to something.
Adapted from Aislinn Hunter’s 2005 novel, Stay opens with Abbey (Schilling), a young Canadian ex-pat, who lives by the sea in Connemara with her older lover Dermot (Quinn), a former Archaeology professor with a troubled past. When Abbey discovers that she’s pregnant, she returns to her native Montreal to reassess her life, uncovering some painful truths about her parents in the process. Meanwhile, in his ‘home at the end of the world,’ Dermot, an unwilling candidate for fatherhood, distracts himself by helping a recently-returned single mother (McGuigan) adjust to her new life, as well as enlisting a mitching schoolboy (Keoghan) to build him a fence.
While this is very much marketed as a drama about a May-December romance in crisis, writer/director Von Carolsfeld has described this as more of a story about a number of the residents of this barren Connemara periphery looking for a place to stay, to call home. Indeed, the subjects of this introspective epistemological quest are well-chosen; along with the clichéd ‘man in his 50s having a mid-life crisis,’ shifting the focus to a pregnant 30-something, a teenage boy, and a mother of a newborn potentially offers a variety of interesting results and opposing perspectives as to where each character sees themselves going – or staying – in life. The fact that they all come to seemingly very similar conclusions, however, is disheartening. It feels more like a generic narrative wrap-up than a fully-satisfying conclusion.
Von Carolsfeld does some interesting things with language and geography, neatly contrasting the chic urban French-Canadian Montreal with the Connemara Gaeltacht giving each locale a separate, multi-sensory identity. Yet this representation of Ireland, while thematically connected with Dermot’s narrative, is questionable at best. Even as the romanticisation of this bleak rural landscape is mocked within the world of the film itself – as Dermot expresses his disgust at the ‘Idyll by the Sea’ cottage development proposed by his neighbour – it clings to the rustic, outdated view of Ireland, at least this part of it, as a retreat from modernity. While Dermot’s self-imposed exile from Dublin is certainly complemented by his surroundings, details like JFK paintings in badly-weathered houses where the dead are waked in their own beds clutching daisies give the film a stage Irishness that is not altogether comfortable for a contemporary Irish viewer to experience.
The performances in Stay are rather uneven. The most convincing come from the young Irish cast members, Barry Keoghan and Nika McGuigan, who subtly infuse their light and aimless conversation with a keen sense of how lost and adrift youth make sense of the world. While leads Quinn and Schilling have both proven capable of low-key performances in the past, and each have quiet, graceful moments in this film, there are times when conversation between the two sounds less like a call-and-response, than two actors merely reeling off their learned lines. This hit-and-miss chemistry expends to most of the rest of the cast, with even the father-daughter relationship enacted by Schilling and Michael Ironside appearing even more strained than that between their characters. Some weak scripting and awkwardly-forced exposition only further detracts from the naturalistic tone a modernist film like Stay – heavy on personal relationships, light on plot – requires to work.
Taking an interestingly decentred approach to some complex themes of intimacy and belonging, Stay undoubtedly has its moments and great potential for something more, but ultimately doesn’t build a world in which one would wish to linger.