Stay Awake: Review. By Rudie Obias
When you’re dealing with drug addiction, it can get out of hand really fast—but not just for you, but your family too. While rehab and counseling are great options to kick the deadly habit, the chances of relapsing increases when you deal with the symptoms instead of the root causes. The movie Stay Awake tackles the vicious cycle of addiction and going through the nightmare of self-loathing, heavy drug use, overdosing, treatment, and back to self-loathing, and so on and so on, while your family is left to pick up the pieces.
Written and directed by Jamie Sisley (Farewell Ferris Wheel), Stay Awake follows Michelle (Chrissy Metz), a single mother of two teenage boys—Derek (Fin Argus) and Ethan (Wyatt Oleff)—living in a small town in Virginia. Michelle is terribly addicted to prescription drugs, while her sons have to deal with her out-of-control drug use, while they both have their own ambitions to leave town and start their lives after high school.
Stay Awake is really mixed about setting out its path, while reconciling its themes and story development. Although the characters are well-defined and relatable, it almost feels as if Sisley is in a rush to get through the story to get to the film’s final act.
The film moves at a whirlwind pace going from one character moment to another to move the story along, but it doesn’t give an audience enough time to breathe to really stay with the film. Instead it bounces back-and-forth between character motivations and plot points, while both could’ve been done at the same time to give it more weight. It feels light as a feather in that respect.
Meanwhile, it lacks in its structure and writing, while it feels a bit too twee for this writer’s taste, which is a shame because Sisley has a strong sense of direction and framing. Stay Awake has a real sense of place that feels authentic, especially when it comes to the cycle of rehab and relapsing. It’s tough to break the cycle, but Sisley captures it so well from the family’s point-of-view.
By and large, the performances are the real standout of the film. Metz is sympathetic and grounded, while Argus is properly suited and mannered as a young man stuck between “high school mode” and the real world post-graduation. The shining star in Stay Awake, however, is Oleff, a closeted young man who is anxious to go to college, but can’t manage his family life anymore. There’s a lot of emotional heft that Oleff has to carry throughout the film and he does a very good job straddling between both worlds. Each character is conflicted about life and where things go from here, which is quite relatable.
Overall, Stay Awake is a real mix bag of a movie. It feels torn between its characters’ motivations and the film’s plotting and storytelling. It’s true, there are a number of flubs and missteps along the way, but there’s just enough character moments and pathos to help you stay awake.
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