In Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), the first film in the trilogy, Jesse and Celine meet on a train to Budapest. In Peter Chelsom’s Serendipity (2001), Jonathan Trager met Sara Thomas while shopping for a pair of cashmere gloves. In Alex Lehman’s Blue Jay (2016), high school sweethearts Jim and Amanda bump into each other while shopping at a supermarket. The stories of all these three films, among many others, course meanderingly as the protagonists open up in each others’ company, talking and navigating their sexual attractions for each other, to offer us a whirlwind romance that has set many of us dreaming about such encounters with strangers in the night. Stay the Night (2022), written and directed by Renuka Jeyapalan, harps upon a similar tale of intersecting paths.
It is delicately crafted and dips into enough fun and serious conversations to keep itself from accidentally spilling the sexual tension between the protagonists, Grace, and Carter, upon the ice.
Grace (played by Andrea Bang) is an HR professional. She holds enough potential to be able to bag the role she is seen begging her boss for but is told off as being ‘too standoffish’ and ‘reserved.’ In an effort to undo the reservations in her nature, she joins her roommate (and best friend?), Joni (played by Humberly Gonzalez) at the bar. However, she is quick to figure out that she is a misfit. Enter Carter Stone (played by Joe Scarpellino), a professional Hockey player who has been recently demoted. He is in town for the night before he is sent off to his new team the following day and is at the same bar for a drink.
Grace and Carter’s paths intersect outside this bar. They are in the same taxi. They are in Carter’s hotel room together. They are on Carter’s bed, engaged in foreplay. Alas, things come crashing down! Soon enough, both are at a downtown bar exchanging their names and professional qualifications and discussing sexual innuendos over leftover burgers and fries. The night is long and young as Carter and Grace hop across food joints, ice skating rink, and house parties and navigate bedroom spaces. Do they consummate their relationship by the end of a long night?
Jeyapalan’s treatment of this cliche story portrays an inherent understanding of popular culture’s withstanding interest in this romantic comedy genre. Both the protagonists are given enough space to craft their professional characters before they can discard the robe and step into each others’ presences as people they’d be if they weren’t who they are now – Grace is unabashedly charming, outgoing, and confident in herself. At the same time, Carter is understanding, cool-headed, and warm in his interactions.
Bang is an actress I have looked forward to watching as a protagonist in a movie ever since I watched (and loved) her role as Janet in Kim’s Convenience (2016 – 2021). She and Scarpellino perform like lovers who have known each other for days before they come together to shoot this movie. They fit like hand and glove around each other. Their smiles are coordinated just as well as their banter. Stay the Night becomes a living, breathing performance of flirtatious fun in a city. The sexual tension heaps around them like powdery snow as they progress into the night – completely aware of it and yet leaving it to gather upon their coats just long enough to make us break into a titillating smile while watching the film.
Also, Read – 25 Best Indie Romantic Comedy Movies Of The Century
The cityscape plays a silent but pertinent sidekick to the protagonists. It is present in the background like a dreamy image from when Grace and Carter meet to when they part, standing like a fortress and a silent witness. Something about looking at the city lights glimmering in the darkness, oblivious to the story of Grace and Carter unfolding and taking shape, makes the setting automatically more romantic than you’d have liked to believe. I’d have personally preferred low-mounting jazz to form the backdrop to the protagonists’ journey, but Jeyapalan breaks out of the stereotype.
Most of the scenes feature no background music, city noises, and copious amounts of silence. However, once daylight floods the screen, reality sinks in, and you snap out of the moment; the impossibility and implausibility of a romance between Grace and Carter punch you in the gut but don’t quite break the spell cast upon you by the previous night’s association. The film rests on this delicate balancing act between fantasy and reality.
Stay the Night (2022) is another inclusion to the genre of romantic comedy for die-hard romantic fools who enjoy snuggling into blankets on their couches on weekends and dreaming of fantastical stories. It is now playing in theatres across the US and is available to stream across digital platforms. It is tailored for people who believe in love and chance meetings. It is a pleasurable watch, sensitive and mood-lifting, one I will surely go back to if I ever feel the need to watch a movie to rinse my cynicism about reality.