There have been few iterations of the big city romance set over the course of one day/night ever since Richard Linklater’s Vienna-set classic Before Sunrise graced the silver screen 27 years ago. It captured the certain magic of late night, philosophical musings and discovering secrets of a sleeping city with an indelible, youthful romance at the core. It even went on to become its own trope, spawning a trilogy with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprising their roles as the star-crossed leads nine years later in each successive film. Since then, it has been hard to recreate the circumstances surrounding one of cinema’s most famous love stories without inviting negative comparisons. (I’m looking at you, Chris Evans’ directorial debut Before We Go.)
Renuka Jeyapalan’s polished solo feature debut, Stay the Night, takes up that ambitious mantle, bringing together Grace (Andrea Bang), a reserved and overlooked office worker, and Carter (Joe Scarpellino), a professional athlete in a career crisis, as an unlikely pair of strangers who develop a life-changing connection after a failed attempt at a one-night stand in Toronto. After a convincingly awkward initial attempt to do the deed, Grace and Carter manage to stick together organically for the rest of the night — exploring the city, talking about life, and sharing those secrets that are so much easier to tell a stranger than someone close to you.
Bang and Scarpellino are instantly charming and believable as certain Toronto and Montreal archetypes. Bang especially is super relatable as the Asian millennial protagonist (read: this writer) with a history of few deep relationships, high standards for herself and others, plus her big scarf and wool jacket combo (tell me you shop at Aritzia without telling me you shop at Aritzia) that left me wondering if she was based on me. Grace is someone who starts off with the natural inclination to do the opposite of carpe diem, someone who my brother might uncharitably describe as an NPC. But she clearly wants to try to step out of her comfort zone and her internal efforts are viscerally felt in those uncomfortable situations that she finds herself in at work and out on the town.
Scarpellino is perfectly cast as a dreamy Chad Michael Murray-type with easy-going magnetism, gentle curiosity, and well-calibrated emotional intelligence that can get past Grace’s metaphorical walls. But Carter, too, has some personal issues to work out, and casting aside bigger (and more pretentious) questions about the meaning of life and the relationship between men and women that Before Sunrise covered, he and Grace do the real work on themselves over the course of their various conversations about intimacy, life goals, and honesty. They also have great chemistry together, and their push and pull toward each other is a wonderfully performed dance that never feels too contrived.
Stay the Night hits theatres on November 18.