Picking up where A Beautiful Mind left off and forever ruining Massive Attack’s “Angel” in the process, Stay is a tricked-out look at mental crisis. Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor), a psychiatrist living in a ridiculous Eames-inspired hallucination of New York City with his artist girlfriend (Naomi Watts), inherits a patient, Henry Lethem (Ryan Gosling), who disappears after saying he’s going to commit suicide on his 21st birthday. Sam goes looking for Henry around the city, bumping into acquaintances of the young man—an actress-waitress (Elizabeth Reaser) who used to serve Henry pecan pie at a diner, a recently-blinded gentleman (Bob Hoskins) who may be his father, the psychiatrist (Janeane Garofalo) he apparently drove nuts, and his ostensibly dead mother (Kate Burton) and pooch—all the way to a howler of an ending on the Brooklyn Bridge during which the filmmakers preposterously connect the story’s many psychotropic dots.
Marc Forster wears his visual and theoretical pretenses on his sleeve (remember, this is the guy who wanted to evoke I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings during the notorious sex scene from the horrid Monster’s Ball), working in maximum overdrive to summon a sense of disorientation with creepy voiceovers, cheap visual effects, and oblique angles of retro edifices and stairways. This visual and aural noise wouldn’t be so bad if it was rooted—as it is in Romero’s straightforward but intriguing Season of the Witch—in a palatable sense of spiritual anxiety, but Forster isn’t devoted to seriously understanding the human experience of his characters or the precarious connection between their physical world and the spiritual beyond. Stay’s cheap window dressing simply exists to blind us from the fact that its story is driving on empty.
Surely no one can say the obtuse Forster is cut from the same mold as Lynch or Antonioni, two masters who are able to convey a weighty sense of spiritual crisis, transference, and ascension with as little as a zoom into a box (see Mulholland Drive) or a long take through the bar-lined windows of a room where a man is about to die and out into a courtyard outside (see The Passenger). As if to illustrate the fiber of our lives, Forster fuses the last shot of one scene with the first shot of the next using trite effects and graphic matches—a repetitive technique that really succeeds only at illustrating his particular form of literal grandstanding. Lynch and Antonioni’s art sustains a curious and critical view of our modern world whereas Forster presents to us the despair of the world as a soulless, Euro-trashy video installation.