When sullen art student Lethem (Gosling) informs his new therapist Sam (McGregor) that he'll kill himself in three days, the good doctor sets out to locate the source of his trauma. Yet, as he delves deeper into Lethems life, a succession of weird events
Gathering dust for two years on a studio shelf, this self-satisfied exercise in anything-goes, altered-states wooziness — that creepy but lawless form of supernatural thriller that gives a director free reign to abandon good sense — arrives to find the movie world has left it behind. It’s born already a relic.
Marc Forster is a versatile director who has swung from racial drama (Monster’s Ball) to literary tearjerker (Finding Neverland), although both films, like Stay, are consumed by a death obsession. Here, he indulges himself with nippy digital dissolves that skid from scene to surrealistic scene, building up an infuriating patchwork of ‘clues’ that never give you quite enough to assemble the bigger picture. Why is it that Ewan McGregor’s trousers are so short in the leg? What is it with blind Bob Hoskins and his ESP? Why is it raining so hard? And what the hell gives with these repeated visual tics, tiny details on repeat play, like the weird little boy with a silver balloon who bleats, “Mama, is that man going to die?” Everything may have a point, except the existence of the film itself.
That it is all very well made, with a slick, dreamlike glaze to its not-quite New York, is not in question. And the ever-watchable McGregor retains his charismatic spark as the nobly intentioned shrink. Although, it remains remarkable how little movie therapists grasp of the basic tenets of their profession (don’t get personally involved). However, poor Naomi Watts and (even worse) dour Ryan Gosling are required to lurch through this humourless, existential labyrinth like a pair of Goth teenagers who’ve had their allowances cut.
If Forster wasn’t so damn serious about everything, he might have mined the febrile gimmickry of Charlie “Eternal Sunshine” Kaufman’s wild concoctions, but in this pretentious mush, psycho-trauma only happens to mordant artistic types who live in epic loft apartments and talk odiously about painting. Imagine The Matrix minus the tickle of superheroics and populated by manic-depressives.
There is something silly and sour about a film touting itself as a logic-defying revolution in filmmaking rules, when actually it is just achingly derivative of fast-fading fashions. Talk about déjà vu — just to mention its copious thefts would give the narrative game away. And even if you still fancy the minor thrill of its nutty secret, its pretensions toward the meaningful — a doleful meditation on suicidal behaviour — keep that rain pouring.
The type of movie often described as a fever-dream: weird, offbeat, otherworldly An experience that also coincides with feeling ill.