Editor Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s second directorial feature (following 2002’s well-received stage adaptation “Marion Bridge”) illustrates how difficult it is to pull off onscreen the kind of ruminative psychological drama that literary fiction often manages so well. Drawn from Aislinn Hunter’s acclaimed 2005 debut novel, “Stay” emerges a tepid tale of three lives facing parenthood with mixed emotions that manifest themselves mostly in general, under-articulated gloom. Static and uninvolving despite a decent cast — particularly top-billed Aidan Quinn as an Irish villager with a restless spouse and a secret past disgrace — the pic is unlikely to generate more than modest home-format sales beyond the fest circuit.
Quinn does his best to inject humor and warmth into the somewhat stock tipsy-Irish-rascal role of Dermot, an erstwhile professor of archaeology now content to putter around his home at “the end of the world” on Ireland’s west coast. That complacency isn’t shared by younger live-in girlfriend Abbey (Taylor Schilling), a Canadian emigre suffocating in this quaint village environ with no hope of employment or other diversion — beyond adoring Dermot, that is, whose vision of their future together has no room for the possibility of children. (It turns out this is tied to the tragic circumstances around his university dismissal.)
Abbey, too, has reasons to be wary about raising a family, her own upbringing having been far from ideal. But the couple is forced to confront the issue when she discovers she’s pregnant. Resulting strife makes it a good time for her to visit hometown Montreal, where her hard-drinking dad (Michael Ironside) is still a shambles but proves disconcertingly eager to redeem past mistakes via enthusiasm for the grandchild Abbey’s unsure she’ll carry to term.
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Meanwhile, lonely, despondent Dermot takes a break from the bottle to develop a reluctant interest in two troubled local teens: Deirdre (Nika McGuigan), newly returned to raise an illegitimate child in her late mother’s house, and Sean (Barry Keoghan), a school dropout who badgers his way into a job as builder of a property fence the older man doesn’t need.
None of this is very engaging, as the various depressed parties circle each other in preparation for new-day-dawning alliances as predictable as they are low-key. There’s nothing really wrong with “Stay,” just that its minor-key multiple-character study is of a largely internalized type better suited to the page than to the show-and-tell medium of cinema. Result is earnest but, like its dramatic personae, a bit low-energy and rather wearying to watch.
Packaging is pro, although true to the general malaise here, even the Irish coast looks drabber than usual.