Friday, April 14, 2006

Filmtastic Friday - Admittedly, I'm a Little Biased Against This Sort of Film

Here are my spoiler-laden thoughts on the recent “thriller” Stay (albeit spoilers you could probably guess from the trailers like I did, but still . . .); all I’ll say before I get into the details is that there were some really, really cool visuals throughout, but that the overall film was a disappointment.

WARNING! Here be spoilers

Stay: Ewan McGregor plays a psychiatrist whose world begins to unravel after an encounter with a strangely prescient suicidal patient (Ryan Gosling). And by "unravel" I don't mean "his personal life becomes a shambles; I mean "unravel" as in "time and space seem to lose all meaning, as does the barrier between life and death." Let's start out with the positives: director Marc Forster (probably best known as the man who practically forced the Academy to give Halle Berry a pity Oscar after she had to do a sex scene with Billy Bob Thornton in his Monster's Ball) pulls some really interesting visual stunts throughout, crafting a world where the lines between reality and dreaming are blurred, and you're never sure what's going to be coming around the corner: a stranger stepping off of a subway car smoothly transforms into McGregor's wife, McGregor and Gosling inexplicably alternate positions during an otherwise conventional tracking shot, a crowd shot seems almost inexplicably wrong until you realize that it is comprised of digitally imposed copies of the same small group of people reproduced endlessly . . . suffice it to say that, while I have problems with the film, I thought the visual aspects made sitting through it all worthwhile. And what sort of problems did I have with it? Well, I could just refer you back to the spoiler-filled explanations for my dislike of a similar film, but I'll go ahead and quote the relevant text here:

'd like to take this moment to make a plea to all of the burgeoning filmmakers out there: please, if you suddenly feel yourself overcome with an idea to make a strange, non-linear, surreal film where nothing makes sense, and characters find themselves trapped in loops or confronted with huge logical inconsistencies in their surroundings which build and build until the final reveal that the central character is either (a) dead or (b) dying . . . if you feel yourself driven to make such a film, then please, I beg of you, for the sake of my sanity, please reconsider. It's been done before, multiple times; I'm not generally one to wave people away from certain plot structures because they've been used before (would I be such a fan of horror movies or quest-based fantasy novels if I was?), but in this case, I'll make a huge exception.

I suppose there could be a situation where such a film doesn't make me miserable; I'm sure that if there's enough clever dialogue or innovative cinematography or likeable enough actors that the big reveal at the end won't do more than make me roll my eyes in a "not again" fashion . . .I guess my biggest quibble with most of these "look, he/she's really dead/dying, isn't that clever and unexpected?" films is that all too often it feels like the screenwriter and/or director are banking on the shock of the "ooo, isn't this a cool twist!" factor to win the audience over.
That's right, all of the unraveling of reality is because the Ryan Gosling character is dying after a car wreck, and his failing mind is working all of the people gathered around his expiring body into this weird fantasy world. But while the painfully obvious truth behind everything made me roll my eyes, the increasingly self-referential and recursive world that was created managed to hold my interest; as a matter of fact, during one scene I thought to myself "this feels almost like a Michel Gondry video", which is high praise indeed coming from me. In the end, Stay was a mixed bag for me; inventive visuals mixed with a pedestrian and ultimately predictable plot. Do with those mixed emotions as you will.