Invoking every John Hughes movie under the sun, the Polish brothers’ Stay Cool chronicles the return of a successful writer, Henry McCarthy (Michael Polish), to his hometown and high school, reunited with longtime friends and confronted with his past—and still clinging—inadequacies. Pulling up to the airport in a flamboyantly decorated mini cooper are Henry’s two old high school buds, a supremely gay hairdresser (Sean Astin) and a rebellious tattoo artist (Josh Holloway); despite the 15-year leap forward, everyone appears frozen in a mundane, unchallenged existence, and when Henry reemerges he cleanly slips back into that role of nerdy son that everyone was used to, even with a bestselling novel on the shelves and an ever-expanding bank account. Flipping through an old yearbook, he comes across the photo of Scarlett Smith (Winona Ryder), the popular girl he once fawned after and who inspired his book How Lionel Got Me Laid. With his planned commencement speech coming up for his alma mater’s graduating class, Henry now must make a decision: leave his hometown with dignity intact or reconnect with an unrequited old flame that more burned than lit ablaze.
Written by Mark Polish and directed by his brother Michael, this is thoroughly a family affair, but with their upcoming film Manure just around the corner, Stay Cool feels a bit rushed, suggesting nothing more than an homage to Pretty in Pink or Some Kind of Wonderful. The saving graces are the cinematography and production design, as the style is nearly pitch-perfect, with bold, popping color filling up the frames, taking us back to a time and aesthetic we cinematically know oh-so-well. Polish and Ryder give soulful performances, but suited in rubbery, one-note caricatures, the supporting cast, mainly Astin and Holloway, come off a bit grating. This may be attributed to the thin direction: Virtually xeroxing past ‘80s films into his HDcam-shot frames, the filmmakers can’t find any new twists on this proverbial tale of going back to your hometown and hoping someone is still waiting for you.