Berlinale 2022: Stay Awake

Directed by: Jamie Sisley
Distributed by: MarVIsta

Written by Taylor Baker

46/100

“Stay Awake” is Jamie Sisley’s first solo film, and marks his first foray into feature filmmaking. In it, he details two brothers’ relationship as they juggle their drug-addicted mother Michelle played by Chrissy Metz. Derek (Steffan Argus) the older brother has stuck around his hometown and works at a bowling alley so he can be around his mother and brother. While dreaming of being an actor, and going out for parts in local advertisement roles. Scared to move on. Ethan, played by Wyatt Oleff, is a pessimistic overachiever who has his sights set on leaving home as soon as graduates.

Michelle is addicted like so many Americans are to pharmaceutical opiates. To convey her addiction visually Jamie created a scene in which she goes in for a urinalysis by her doctor and pricks her finger to add blood to the sample. Renewing her prescription. After taking Michelle to the hospital a second time the boys decide that they need to get her into rehab or she’s going to die. While the performances do exude that the characters believe their mother may die, the film itself doesn’t indicate the stakes or truth of that melodramatic layer. The hospital scenes are sanitary, the emotional conversations monotone, and later when they try to revisit it, the moment feels hollow and artificial.

Jamie demonstrates comprehension of blocking uncommon for a first time out as a feature film director. Though his screenplay is built on a decidedly melodramatic premise he manages to make his run-of-the-mill character’s experiences and next steps in life feel cohesive. “Stay Awake” may not be all that interesting but it is intriguing how competently wrought it is for a relative newcomer. Should he make a film in a different genre I’d be very intrigued to see how he improves on the talent he displayed. 

“Stay Awake” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the Berlinale Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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