Multiply Thy Sorrow, by Craig Schroeder
I’m a married person, for whom plans for fatherhood are slowly taking shape. More and more I’m having to consider how a child will fit into the increasingly complicated jigsaw puzzle of life, happiness, careers, etc. This is maybe why I identified so much with Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s Stay, a film that focuses on impending parenthood from the perspective of two people who are also, for much different reasons, scared shitless by the idea of a prospective child. But for how much the central premise of the film resonates with me, I am somewhat let down by Carolsfeld’s execution.
At its core, Stay–not to be confused with Marc Forster’s 2005 dull psychological-thriller of the same name–is about the fears associated with first-time parenthood, be they admirable or selfish. Dermot and Abby are two lovers living a quaint, but beautiful, life somewhere in the “arse end of Ireland”. Their respective histories are murky, which plays to the film’s strengths. For reasons unknown, the much older Dermot was unceremoniously fired from a prestigious teaching job in Dublin. And Abby, a Canadian living in Ireland, is more than happy to leave her previous life behind. But when the pair learns that Abby is pregnant, they must both confront their pasts to decide how they will move forward.
Aidan Quinn and Taylor Schilling (who burst into public consciousness last summer as the lead of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black) are perfect as the lead couple. They bring subtle performances to a screenplay that relies on slow and painful revelations and epiphanies. Both actors bring an unspoken want to their characters, a want that marks their otherwise idyllic existence together with a sense of dread. Eventually the couple drift away from each other and are confronted by their pasts through their interactions with a few delightful supporting characters. Michael Ironside is wonderful as Abby’s affectionate, though often inappropriate, father; and young actor Barry Keoghen is great as Sean, a local boy whom Dermot hires to build a fence around his property.
Once Abby’s pregnancy is inadvertently revealed to Dermot, a man in his late fifties or early sixties who has no desire for children, the two decide to take some time apart as Abby decides whether she wants to terminate the pregnancy or go through with an unplanned birth. This is the point where Stay kind of goes off the tracks. Though Abby and Dermot share equal screen time, it’s Abby’s story. However, Carolsfeld seems determined to make it a shared story, giving equal time and consideration to Dermot, a character who doesn’t deserve Abby and certainly doesn’t deserve the amount of screen time he’s given. I’d speculate that Carolsfeld fancies Dermot as a troubled character with as many good qualities as negative ones, but I feel differently. Though Aidan Quinn is great in what’s asked of him, Dermot is an asshole. What’s worse, the film doesn’t hold Dermot accountable for his assholery. Dermot berates Abby for the petty offense of needing time to reveal her pregnancy to him. He disconnects the phone so his pregnant girlfriend, traveling a country that she is mostly unfamiliar with, cannot contact him. And when a despicable secret of his past is revealed, the film seems all to eager to absolve him of his sins. But despite all of this, Carolsfeld and the film put him on an equal plane with Abby, neutering her journey of self-discovery.
Most of the film unfolds with Abby and Dermot many miles away, but Carolsfeld and editor Yvann Tibaudeau attempt to bridge this separation by parallel editing that makes it difficult to fully engage in either’s story. The relentless editing cuts back and forth, between Dermot in Ireland and Abby at home in Canada, as if the scenes are happening in tandem, building to some greater synchronicity. But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, the film isn’t giving either character the room they need to develop or evolve; instead, choosing to juxtapose one lover’s interactions with the other’s, half way around the world. What we’re left with is a series of great performances and sometimes poignant observations about parenthood, cut to pieces by a bit of over-zealous editing.
At this point, I’m supposed to tell you, the reader, whether or not you should watch this film. And I’m not sure. Its flaws are glaring and easy to deconstruct. There is some good happening throughout, but there are also a lot of things that will leave you pounding your head against the wall. Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed Stay. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. It is an often-irritating film that hit me at a time in my life where I’m most apt to enjoy it. How’s that for a glowing recommendation?