Indie romance channels the spirit of Before Sunrise

Renuka Jeyapalan’s Stay the Night is a lovely film about two strangers crossing paths at the exact right moment and having the kind of night that could be just another night, or something more momentous. When a story like this, one where you can hear the premise and immediately know how things will play out, works this well, it’s like a magic trick. With sharp writing and a charismatic pair of leads, Stay the Night will put you under its spell.

Grace (Andrea Bang, best known for Kim’s Convenience) works in HR and just got passed over for a promotion at work she’s more than deserving of, so she goes out with a friend to cut loose. Or as loose as someone as tightly wound as Grace can get. Carter (Joe Scarpellino) is a hockey player who’s just been released and is waiting to see if another team will claim him or if he’ll be sent to the minors. The two cross paths at a bar and thus begins a night neither of them expected.

The best version of this formula does not revolve around whether the characters will eventually hook up, but whether they find a deeper connection. For Grace and Carter, it’s about two people discovering, or rediscovering, their sense of worth after being told they weren’t good enough at the thing that defines them at this point in their lives. Jeyapalan, serving as writer and director, balances the story and dynamic between Grace and Carter. There’s a natural flow to their conversations, allowing both to have their moments of vulnerability and resilience.

With Jeyapalan delivering a rich script, Bang and Scarpellino flesh out Grace and Carter into the kind of characters an audience can fall for. There’s a give and take to Grace and Carter that gives Bang and Scarpellino plenty of notes to hit as the story develops. Grace is the more complex character, which gives Bang more stand out moments (a faux HR interview, a bedroom revelation). Carter leans on stoic silence, which makes the moments when he opens up really land. Scarpellino is particularly great in a late-night skating scene. The highest compliment I can give Bang and Scarpellino is that by the end of the film all I wanted was for their characters to be happy, regardless of whether they’re a couple or not.

Like Before Sunrise, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and Shithouse (which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at SXSW 2020) before it, Stay the Night embraces this kind of story’s blueprint and tweaks it just enough to make it feel fresh. It’s a crowd-pleaser that earns its catharsis. It also announces Jeyapalan as a filmmaker to put on your radar. That’s a formula playing out to perfection.

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