We’ve seen plenty of stories about addiction that border on cliché. Four Good Days, Ben Is Back, and Beautiful Boy are just a few examples that come to mind. With quiet and precise execution, Jamie Sisley’s Stay Awake dodges the saccharine by swerving into the raw and real. Starring Chrissy Metz (This Is Us), Fin Argus (Clouds), and Wyatt Oleff (It, I Am Not Okay With This), Sisley’s simple direction finds the interesting in a story you’ve heard before.
When we first meet Michelle (Metz), she is in her kitchen making a meal and listening to music. What seems like a normal scene soon turns as she takes a pill and ends up in the hospital. Sisley injects the moment with the sense that this has happened before when her two sons, struggling actor Derek (Argus) and high school senior Ethan (Wyatt) get to her. Tired of his mother’s behavior, Ethan is ready to force her into any rehab program they can find while Derek is much more skeptical and purposefully has them tour facilities they know they can’t afford well outside their small Virginia town.
Both boys have aspirations outside of being their mother’s caretaker. Derek is more hesitant to go out for local commercials and voiceover work and mainly works at the bowling alley to supplement his income. Derek has his eyes set on attending Brown University in the fall, a fact that causes the breakup between him and his girlfriend. Here Sisley questions Ethan’s sexuality with his growing friendship with another boy at school. The director doesn’t directly say the high schooler is gay through dialogue but instead sets it up visually. This is just one example of how Stay Awake shies away from standard cliche. Sisley doesn’t nail anything on the head. Instead, he lets it breathe.
Once Mets’ character goes to rehab, the boys’ everyday life comes to the forefront. Derek struggles to find what he wants to do with his relationship and his career – while simultaneously playing the eldest sibling who is trying to hold everyone together. As his mother works her program, further than she has ever done before, his codependence with his family becomes more evident.
Sisley’s writing strength lies in his realistic and grounded characters. No one is rooted in melodrama which highlights the everyday tragedy of their situation. As the opioid epidemic rages on, Stay Awake shows us an everyday reality that families deal with.
Watch the trailer below. Stay Awake is in theaters now.