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Film Review: Stay the Night (2022) by Renuka Jeyapalan

A romantic drama suitable for both Tinder skeptics and lovelorn alike

It is Asian Heritage Month in Canada, and few characters are more iconic than Janet Kim from “Kim's Convenience” (2016). In this widely-watched TV show, spins Janet as a headstrong, single 20-some year old who brings her Korean Canadian family together. After the show's sudden shut-down last year, Bang re-emerges in feature form with director (also from “Kim's Convenience”). “” marks the duo's re-entry into the film world, and not without applause. The film premiered in SXSW and more recently screened at the

Here, Bang plays Grace, a stubbornly introverted corporate employee. Her roommate Joni (), however, is anything but. So when Joni kicks out Grace for (yet another) spontaneous hook-up, Grace finds herself looking for a retreat. She resorts to what any desperate urban, young woman would do in her shoes: find a one-night stand. There's only one hitch, however: Grace has never done the deed before. One conversation leads to another, as she ends up spending the rest of the night with her man of choice – professional, but demoted, athlete Carter () – though not in his five-star hotel room. The two wander through the dimmed streets of Toronto, exploring bars, skating rinks, and even her own cubicle as they gradually learn to trust each other. 

It's hard not to compare “Stay the Night” to another indie favorite, Richard Linklater's “Before Sunrise” (1995). Here, another serendipitous meet-up results in a night-long walk through the city — only with an American-French couple (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), and in Vienna. The two, however, evade the question of sex; it even takes the whole film for them to kiss. Jeyapalan, however, asks Grace and Carter to make out from the start. She updates the dreamy city date to the sexual politics to 2022, haunting Grace and Carter with the possibility – and anxiety – of intercourse. Losing one's virginity to a stranger, Jeyapalan notes, is less ideal than it seems.

In this vein, Bang does a stellar job of performing Grace's unending unease. She delivers her terse lines with precision, and seamlessly transitions from insecurity to newfound confidence. Like her portrayal of Janet, Bang typifies Grace into a familiar face. Everyone has definitely met a Grace-type before: shrilly protective of her own sexuality, yet jealous of others' free ways all the same. This contrasts sharply with Scarpellino's performance, who feels comfortable with his role halfway through. Instead of mysterious, Scarpellino seems confused; instead of dreamy-eyed, he seems tired. Sometimes, one wonders if Scarpellino was only cast to serve an occasional smolder. 

Together however, the two do share some casting chemistry. It takes time, though. Unlike Hawke and Delpy's initial spark, the Scarpellino and Bang's relationship is a slow burn. This may be due to – or perhaps, is influenced by – the editing. Unlike the famous long takes of “Before Sunrise,” “Stay the Night” follows the duo in cuts. As such, the two's movements seem notably scripted and montaged. They clash, they fumble, and then they finally, awkwardly, mechanically, join hands. Though they move through the city together, very little of their nighttime journey feels as organic as Linklater's precedent.

Is “Stay the Night,” then, the Asian Canadian answer to Linklater? Not quite. Despite these similarities, Jeyapalan's production more resembles a 2000s romcom in spirit. Laden with second-hand embarrassment and bumbling clumsiness, the film feels more like a jab at a typical first love than a philosophical heart-to-heart. Here, the stakes are not nearly as high as they would be in a melodrama; here, a one night stand presents cute, not world-changing, possibility. Like “Serendipity” (2001) or “Begin Again” (2013), this film is sure to appeal in living rooms (or beds) of the millennial home. “Stay the Night” asks us to do what all rom-coms do: to cheer the couple on. We wait – perhaps not with bated breath – but with at least a smidgen of hope, a not-so-secret yearning for coupling despite the odds.

About the author

Grace Han

In a wave of movie-like serendipity revolving around movies, I transitioned from studying early Italian Renaissance frescoes to contemporary cinema. I prefer to cover animated film, Korean film, and first features (especially women directors). Hit me up with your best movie recs on Twitter @gracehahahan !

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