New York is melting—every person, every story flowing into one another. That's the way it seems in Stay (which opens Friday, Oct. 21, at the Metro and other theaters), although I'm not sure whom to blame. Is it suicidal college student Ryan Gosling, who may have the gift/curse of prophecy? Is it his psychiatrist, Ewan McGregor, whose own sanity is contaminated by his patient? Or is it McGregor's artist girlfriend, Naomi Watts, whose canvases suddenly bear the signature of a different hand? All the narrative pigments bleed together in this willfully disorienting psychodrama by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), until McGregor complains, "I don't know what's real anymore!" Which is, exactly, the entire point.
Stay requires considerable patience. And after that patience is exhausted, it may still remind you of some movies you've seen before (with a Shyamalan ending that's not hard to predict). During a three-day time frame, which Gosling says will conclude with his death on the Brooklyn Bridge, McGregor has to figure out what parts of Gosling's testimony are true—dead parents, waitress fiancée, AccuWeather forecasts, etc. Gosling appears both too sensitive and too irritating to live, tremulously smoking on the subway and extinguishing the butts on his forearm like James "the human ashtray" Dean. He drove his previous psychiatrist (Janeane Garofalo) into bonker-dom; pretty soon McGregor is racing up and down M.C. Escher stairs that lead to dead dogs, bleeding mothers, and a blind Bob Hoskins, who moves chess pieces in his mind (unless those pawns are us).
Forster tosses doppelgängers on the screen, replays the same scene twice—or even thrice—and uses CG jump cuts within the same shot to push the illogic ever more relentlessly forward. Gosling's deadline gives Stay urgency, but the pace is measured by Dalí's melting clocks. It arrives back at the start like a snake devouring itself; waking up and going to sleep almost amount to the same thing.
More technically polished than well written, the movie suffers a shortage of Watts and an excess of Gosling, who's so aggressively unbalanced you expect him to be in the lobby after the show, telling you, "Look, I am a deeply troubled individual! Didn't that movie teach you anything?" Wearing a too-tight wardrobe, as if his tweeds have been shrunk in the wash, McGregor again uses his marbly American accent from The Island—still, in retrospect, a more plausible place than Stay's New York.