Review by Dan Skip Allen
Sometimes I come into films completely cold. I'll have no idea what I'm going to be watching, and when I've finished watching the said film, I'm pleasantly surprised. One of those instances was Stay Awake. I was recommended this movie by a fellow film critic and friend. I'm glad he recommended it to me because it's very relatable for me now once I've watched it. I was pretty surprised by what I saw.
This film focuses on two brothers, Ethan (Wyatt Oleff) and Derek (Fin Argus) and their obese mother, Michelle, played by This Is Us star Chrissy Metz. At first glance, this family seems okay, except there's an undercurrent of drug abuse on behalf of the mother. She has gone through some traumatic stuff in the past. Now, her two sons have to deal with their burgeoning romances, school, work, and their ill mother. It's a lot for two young men their age to handle.
As I mentioned, this film hit home for me for two main reasons. One is that my mother was obese and had many health issues. She had to raise four kids while being overweight and sick most of the time. Throw in an alcoholic husband/father who wasn't there most of the time, and you can see how this can be difficult for anybody, especially a single mother. The Metz character has similar issues, just in a different context.
The second thing that is very relatable in this movie is that I have a twin brother. We lived at home most of our lives, so we got a firsthand taste of my mother's illnesses and the domestic problems between my mother and father. My brother wasn't a little older than me, like these two were, but like them, we were very close. And for a long time, I truly loved my mother, but she did something to me where I couldn't love her anymore. These two boys had similar issues, with their mother being selfish and not caring about her kids.
You rarely find a film that reflects your own background, like this one did for me. Yes, this story took place in Virginia, whereas I was from Massachusetts. It doesn't matter where you come from, though. This is a story that many people may relate to on some level. Alcohol was the demon in my family, not drugs, but they both can do similar damage. They can both cause trauma for the individual affected by them and the family on the periphery of said abuse. In this case, the two sons.
Wyatt Oleff has been a young actor who has found prominence recently with his roles in the It films and most recently in City on Fire, the Apple TV+ streaming series. Fin Argus is a relatively newer actor on my radar. They both played characters I was somewhat familiar with, though. One has a dead-end job at a bowling alley, and the other has a future he has to go forward with without his girlfriend. She would have just caused him distractions in his young life. Going to school away from her is probably a better idea than being distracted all the time. It reminded me of my younger brother, who went into the Navy to escape the town we lived in. Both actors played their roles well. I felt for the situation they were both put in regarding their mother.
Chrissy Metz has been nominated for various awards for her role in This is Us. She is obviously considered a good actress. Still, I don't think the director did enough to get her to go to the places she needed to go to in this role. We the viewer see her in various places where we know she is getting treatment for her illness, and multiple times in the hospital because of her addiction, but she doesn't go to the next level where other actors in similar times have gone there. I would have liked to see her go to the next level in this role.
All that said, Stay Awake was a good film with relatable topics for me personally. The mother specifically, but also the two brothers, reminded me of myself and my family. It was an eye-opening film because I didn't expect to see something hit home so much while watching it. The writer-director Jamie Sisley got the film into a place where it will be relatable and affecting to others watching. I hope people give this a chance. It's not your normal family drama, but it has enough drama to go around for all the characters involved.
Stay Awake hits theaters on May 19.