Not quite as good as the films it mimics, Stay the Night still has several charms of its own
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 South by Southwest Festival)
We’ve all had rough days but Stay the Night leads Grace (Andrea Bang) and Carter (Joey Scarpellino) are having an especially challenging go of things. Grace is having difficulties securing a job she wants, while even her best friends openly remark that she refuses to take risks in her social life. Meanwhile, Carter is a hockey player who’s been benched for the remainder of his season. Life has come to a standstill for them both.
Grace’s attempts to find a guy to hook up with at a club go nowhere while, at the same location, Carter can’t escape people commenting on the hockey job he no longer has. This is when the duo’s lives intersect, with the rest of Stay the Night focusing on their casual interactions during a night stumbling through the streets of Montreal.
Writer/director Renuka Jeyapalan’s work on Stay the Night will inevitably conjure up comparisons to people like Richard Linklater or Rainer Werner Fassbinder. These are filmmakers concerned with everyday interactions between ordinary humans, like Grace and Carter. If you’re going to mimic an artist, mimic greats like these. Much like shooting for the moon but still landing among the stars, emulating those iconic directors doesn’t make Stay the Night the next Ali: Fears Eats the Soul, but it does give the movie distinct pleasures.
For one thing, Jeyapalan is skilled at penning dialogue that strikes a fine balance between sounding realistic but still being engaging to listen to in the context of a film. One of the earliest conversations between Carter and Grace exemplifies this perfectly. This exchange involves the latter character talking about never eating a “burger” as code meaning she’s never lost her virginity. It’s a clever way of approaching this topic while smartly reflecting how Carter’s guarded nature persists even in a one-on-one setting.
Similarly, a mid-movie conversation where the two leads debate whether people should bond at a bar or a table is also both funny, and speaks volumes about the differing world views of each character. This exchange gets an extra dash of personality through amusingly timed edits cutting between Carter and Grace hashing out various pros and cons at each of these locations. It’s in these mundane conversations, punctuated by agreeable visual flourishes and distinctive dialogue, that Stay the Night finds its voice.
Plus, these stripped-down sequences are where lead actors Bang and Scarpellino excel best. Bang is especially compelling in her portrayal of Grace as a soul conflicted between introversion and interest in this guy she’s just met. Even in the most vivid conversations that the duo shares, she proves skilled at communicating Grace’s underlying discomfort with general social situations. Scarpellino isn’t quite as immediately memorable, but the way he bounces off his co-star proves appropriately realistic and entertaining.
Unfortunately, Stay the Night can’t resist puncturing its laidback style with bursts of melodramatic developments. The best parts of the movie convey the sense that we’re listening in on organic conversations in a bar or at an ice rink. The weakest parts become dominated by shouting and tragic backstory revelations that remind one we’re watching a movie. Unfortunately, these become more and more dominant as the story goes on, with an eventual emphasis on Carter’s daddy issues taking up frustratingly sizable portions of screen time.
It’s in these mundane conversations, punctuated by agreeable visual flourishes and distinctive dialogue, that Stay the Night finds its voice.
As Grace breaks down the inner psychology of the former hockey player she’s run into, the dialogue between the characters becomes didactic, and less intriguingly naturalistic. Similarly, abrupt run-ins with previously established characters also feel like something out of a conventional three-act drama, not a slice of life movie. Subtlety is this film’s best strength, not pronounced and strained attempts at more traditional forms of drama.
Jeyapalan and cinematographer Conor Fisher, thankfully, incorporate restraint in some of the more memorable visual details of Stay the Night. These two frequently manage to craft pleasing imagery while making use of fittingly everyday backdrops. Some lovely flourishes pop up throughout the movie, namely one bar that Grace and Carter stop at draped in purple and blue lighting. The emphasis on empty space surrounding these characters in wider shots, particularly in a rendezvous to Grace’s work at night, also prove arresting.
There aren’t quite enough of these exceptional visual elements or highly engaging dialogue exchanges to make Stay the Night an exceedingly remarkable affair. But there are worse things to spend 90 minutes with than charming performances by Bang and Scarpellino or Jeyapalan’s sporadically humorous dialogue. This is ultimately an easygoing and digestible movie, even if it’s one that also can’t escape the lingering thought that you could be watching a superior Linklater movie instead.