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Aidan Quinn and Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) deliver affecting performances in Stay, a moribund drama written and directed by Wiebke von Carolsfeld (Marion Bridge) that all too ponderously reveals its literary roots. Based on a novel by Aislinn Hunter, this film about a May-December couple divided by an unexpected pregnancy suffers from a sluggish pacing that renders its admittedly identifiable themes is less than compelling fashion.
The central characters are retired archeology professor Dermot (Quinn) and his much younger lover and former student Abby (Schilling). That this age-mismatched couple is very much in love is evident from the opening moments in which their tender sensuality and warm camaraderie are vividly displayed.
The couple has settled in a remote area of rural Ireland where the villagers’ disapproval of their relationship is hardly disguised: “Surely there must be some kids your own age to play with,” one of them suggests to Abby.
Dermot is deeply content with their situation—“I’ve got all I need right here…beer, crisps, you,” he tells his younger lover. But when Abby suddenly reveals that she’s unintendedly pregnant and is considering keeping the baby he becomes irate, angrily telling her that he long ago made it clear that he has no interest in being a father.
The film’s most unconventional element is its keeping the central characters apart for most of its running time, as the upset Abby returns to her Montreal home to visit her hard-drinking father (Michael Ironside) who gleefully relishes the prospect of becoming a grandfather. Meanwhile, Dermot, deeply upset by her absence and lack of communication, strikes up friendships with two young locals: Sean (Barry Keoghan), a teenage dropout who he takes under his wing; and Deirdre (Nika McGuigan), a young, unwed pregnant woman who suddenly goes into labor at her mother’s wake, in the very bed where the dead body is lying in repose.
Eventually, dark secrets are revealed concerning both Dermot and Abby, about the underlying reason for his disinterest in fatherhood and the true explanation for her mother’s disappearance from the scene when she was a child.
The two leads deliver excellent performances: Quinn, affecting a thick Irish brogue, adeptly conveys his character’s rakish charm as well as his underlying vulnerability, while Schilling is deeply radiant and emotionally expressive as the conflicted Abby. But their efforts are undone by writer/director von Carolsfeld’s overly muted handling of the material, with even the scenic Irish environs depicted with an endlessly gloomy visual palette. The emotional issues on display may feel vividly real, but they’re depicted in such a dull, plodding fashion that even the happy ending fails to generate the intended warmth.
Opens March 21 (Gravitas Ventures)
Production: Amerique Film, Samson Films
Cast: Aidan Quinn, Taylor Schilling, Barry Keoghan, Nika McGuigan, Chris Mchallem, Brian Gleeson, Pascal Montpetit, Michael Ironside
Director/screenwriter: Wiebke von Carolsfeld
Producers: Andrew Boutilier, David Collins, Martina Niland, Martin Paul-Hus
Executive producer: Mark Slone
Director of photography: Ronald Plante
Editor: Yvann Thibaudeau
Production designers: John Hand, Elizabeth Williams
Costume designer: Lara Campbell
Composer: Robert Marcel Lepage
Not rated, 99 min.
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