Novelistic subtleties can sometimes get lost in the broad-brush translation to filmmaking. In Stay, for example, Taylor Schilling, star of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, plays a young Canadian woman named Abby who’s living with a retired archeology professor, Dermot (Aidan Quinn), in a spring-autumn romance that comes with side helpings of local colour and melodramatic backstory.
Adapted from a 2002 novel by Canadian writer Aislinn Hunter, this is the second film directed by Wiebke von Carlsfeld – she also made Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge into a film with Molly Parker and Ellen Page. Stay retains the book’s admirable generosity and respect for its slightly unorthodox characters, but on film, the low-energy pacing and emotional understatement minimize the urgency of their problems.
Early on, after the exploration of the couple’s physical contrasts – Schilling, model thin and fine-featured; Quinn, grizzled and twinkly – it’s clear enough from their warm interactions that they’re made for each other, whatever a few clucking local busybodies might say.
Though Abby is restless with small-town Irish life, things don’t get complicated until she learns she is pregnant: Dermot says he does not want a child, and she knows the reasons why. Abby decides it’s time to fly back home to Montreal to visit her hard-drinking wreck of a father (Michael Ironside) and possibly have an abortion. Her mother, according to her dad, took off to Central America for fun in the sun when Abby was just a toddler. Abby worries she has some of the same escapist tendencies, wants to know more about her mother, and gets help from the convenient discovery of a diary that reveals some family secrets.
In parallel scenes, Dermot works out his fatherhood issues by befriending an engaging teenaged dropout, Sean (Barry Keoghan, a bright spark here), who persuades the professor to hire him to build a fence. During the course of their conversations, Dermot tells the boy about his mistake with a student lover years before.
In a somewhat heavy-handed subplot about the past’s refusal to stay buried, Dermot discovers human remains in a neighbour’s field, causing the property’s future use to be changed from tourist development to archaeological dig.
One idea that could have been more richly developed is the sense of Ireland as a society caught between tradition and modernity, set against the generational cycles of birth and death. One striking scene sees a young woman, who has returned home to have her out-of-wedlock baby, suddenly collapsing at a wake, lying down on a bed next to a corpse as her contractions begin.
Too often, though, the darker, more serious moments in Stay are only temporary distractions from the main event – a familiar tale of romantic separation and reconciliation.