Stay feels like one of a million quaint indie romances at first. Set in both the Ireland countryside and Montreal, we meet a sweet couple that seems to have it all. But their “all” is defined under non-traditional terms and they live a simple life—hopelessly romantic, and child-free. Complications arise when an unexpected pregnancy comes into play, but the plot of Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s second feature film (based on the novel by Aislinn Hunter) takes a unique turn and makes a personal problem a community issue. Stay draws on a few too many clichés, but also veers to the left a bit—just enough to keep one’s attention as the romantic drama unfolds.
Abby (Taylor Schilling) and Dermot (Aidan Quinn) start out as the seemingly enviable couple. Having made it clear early on that he does not want children, Dermot (who’s nearly old enough to be Abby’s father) fully enjoys his life as is. Abby soon discovers that she’s pregnant, and an immediate rift develops between them. The film then sort of splits in two, following Abby as she heads back to her father’s home in Montreal and Dermott, who stays in Ireland and begins developing a relationship with a neighborhood boy. Abby is also dealing with issues surrounding her mother’s death, and Dermot is a disgraced professor, though we don’t find out the details of his circumstance until the film’s conclusion.
While Quinn is proficient in his performance as this handsome and intelligent older man (the hot professor, if you will), it’s difficult to divorce Schilling from her role as Piper Chapman on Orange Is the New Black. She has an unaffected style that makes sense for her roles, but also doesn’t really set her apart from her more colorful cast. Actors like Nika McGuigan (who plays a young, strong-willed, pregnant neighbor) and Michael Ironside (as Abby’s father) deliver more memorable performances, even though they have far less screen time. And some bits about her character are just too obvious to be interesting. For example, as she attempts to make a decision about the pregnancy she revisits her relationship with both of her parents. And since her mother is deceased, she ends up looking for answers in her mother’s journals. (Similarly, McGuian’s character is used to draw a far too obvious parallel between life and death, going into labor in the middle of her mother’s funeral.) It’s not that this isn’t interesting or realistic, it’s just that it’s become a bit of a trope.
In addition to following the estranged couple, Stay takes on some minor stories, loosely weaving them in with the larger narrative. Some tension is built waiting for all of the stories to connect, but even when they do it doesn’t all stick quite as one hopes it will. Still, von Carolsfeld takes a simple, intimate story and attempts to flesh it out; she’s not entirely successful but there is some reciprocity.
There are other small triumphs that carry the film. The score tells its own story, with mellow, rustic sounds working through the story. And there’s a subtle but fascinating theme of postcards—somewhat out of place in a contemporary tale, they contribute to an old country, poetic vibe that really is the foundation of the film. It could be that von Carolsfeld was more focused on other aspects of her story, like the sensations given through sound and cinematography. The poetry of it all is indeed stimulating, but it doesn’t make for a completely solid film. Though it’s rare to ask for this, one hopes that she might allow her hand to bear down with a little more intensity on her next project.
Shannon M. Houston is a New York-based freelance writer, regular contributor to Paste, and occasional contributor to the human race via little squishy babies. You can follow her on Twitter.
Director: Wiebke von Carolsfeld
Writer: Aislinn Hunter (novel), Wiebke von Carolsfeld
Starring: Taylor Schilling, Aidan Quinn, Michael Ironside
Release Date: Mar. 21, 2014