Orange is the New Black star Taylor Schilling steps out of her orange jumpsuit for a stripped down performance as a woman caught in the middle of a dead end relationship and an unexpected pregnancy in the Irish-Canadian independent drama, STAY. But even with the rugged subtlety of co-star Aidan Quinn (TV's Elementary), it isn't enough to boost the otherwise drab film.
Directed by German filmmaker Wiebke von Carolsfeld, STAY doesn't do you any favors regarding actually keeping you invested in the story. It's a quiet, slow burn even from its beginning when we first meet seemingly amiable lovebirds Abby and Dermot (Schilling and Quinn) in Ireland as they roll around in the sheets and steal doting glances at each other. But that soft emotion quickly goes south when Abby learns she's pregnant, an announcement that causes Dermot to recoil much to Abby's chagrin. In a rather dismissive scene, Dermot firmly states that he is not at all interested in being a father and even asks Abby if she plans on keeping the baby. Later in the film, Dermot's backstory reveals a somewhat controversial incident that hardened his reaction to parenting, though at this earlier point in the film it comes off callous and completely bewildering.
You'd expect von Carolsfeld (who also adapted the screenplay from the novel of the same name) to further explore their relationship to give the audience a better understanding of both characters, but she instead takes us on this long winding road to nowhere. Abby leaves Dermot to go live with her father in Canada for a while and presumably make a decision on her own about the baby, while Dermot just kind of roams across the Irish fields not knowing what to do next. This goes on for a good hour in the film, with the two of them just bobbin aimlessly about with just occasionally interesting dialogue.
Things get a little more engaging during the scenes with Abby and her father Frank (Michael Ironside), who discovers Abby's pregnancy and tries to offer his support toward a decision to become a single parent. Which sends the already stressed Abby into a fit over being forced to confront the very thing that equally excites and plagues her--motherhood. It's a frustrating, shifty dynamic that offers an additional layer to Abby's character, but fails to explore it more deeply. Vapid dialogue between Abby and her father's younger, free-spirited love interest are meant to compel Abby's story but just comes off as more white noise. We never really get to the bottom of what truly agitates Abby. Is it Dermot's cold reaction to her pregnancy (which she expected he would have, but hoped he'd changed his outlet for her) or is it something deeper? This existential march across the countryside seems more in an effort to find herself than about her unborn child.
Meanwhile, Dermot is a bit cut off at the knees and goes through his own mid-life crisis as he considers the choices he's made--both past and present--and randomly befriends a young mother who is content with raising her baby on her own. In doing so, his usual babyphobia subsides a bit but he continues to keep his guard up. The real question is, will he fix things with Abby? And do either of them really want to?
We never really know. And in fact, we never really know much about either of these characters. While the performances are thoughtful, the execution and story is surprisingly trivial, never getting past the surface of the plot. While a lot of time is spent examining both characters' predicaments and alternate locations, the rest of the film offers no progression or thought provocation. Plus, the pace is disastrously lethargic, as if von Carolsfeld didn't know what to say about these characters. STAY may be a better story in novel format, with more insight on the characters. But as a film it doesn't pull you in; it completely pushes you away.
Rating: D (* out of *****)
Watch the trailer for STAY here:
STAY is currently available on pre-theatrical VOD, and will be in select theaters Friday, March 21st.