After HR specialist Grace (Andrea Bang of Luce and TV’s Kim’s Convenience) is passed over for a promotion, she resolves to embrace spontaneity and have a one-night stand. Little does she know that the handsome stranger she met in the bar (Joe Scarpellino) is really an NHL player from out of town navigating a professional setback of his own.
At first glance, the latest movie from writer/director Renuka Jeyapalan (Ordinary Days) is a by-the-books romance. Grace and her hockey-playing love-interest, Carter, are a classic example of opposites attracting. While Carter lives the high life as a professional athlete, flirting and socializing, Grace is introverted and rarely dates. Their banter is cute, witty, and quicky betrays their mutual attraction. Scarpellino, rocking the quintessential hockey-player haircut, is heartthrob material. Bang gives an understated but layered performance as Grace, a character who reveals herself to be far, far more than a cliché “career-driven” heroine.
Though things start out on an awkward foot, the two embark on an unlikely night together and Grace shows Carter HER city.
Stay the Night is cute and swoon-worthy enough for date night, but it isn’t overly sappy. Bang keeps her character grounded and the premise, while maybe a bit unlikely, is fairly believable — especially in this particular neighbourhood of Toronto, where the entertainment district around the arena converges with the financial district and Chinatown.
Toronto feels like more than just the setting of Stay the Night, it feels like a character in its own right. In a post-Broad City world, that’s not necessarily an approach that’s breaking any new ground. But Jeyapalan smartly showcases the city as a means of immersing us in Grace’s world. The computerized voice of the streetcar announcements, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and other sights and sounds that are distinctly “Toronto” help keep the story from feeling generic.
The film transitions seamlessly between dry, understated humour and more dramatic moments. It’s a charming, easy story that still feels rich and thoughtful, thanks to a strong script, nuanced performances, and great chemistry between the leads.
Be prepared for a slow burn though. Not everyone appreciates their movies this real and grounded. The third act is subdued, and some might find Stay the Night lacking when it comes to stakes and tension. Think quiet intimacy, rather than grand romantic gestures — though there’s a few of those too.
But Jeyapalan, appropriately, keeps the focus on people: messy, complicated people whose flaws and problems feel real. She knows how to create characters that feel relatable and authentic, exploring human connection in a way that is smart, thoughtful, and mature.
Stay the Night might not be the most memorable or exciting film of 2022, but if you’re looking for an antidote to the sickeningly sweet Hallmark formula this holiday season, this is it.
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Shannon Page: @ShannonEvePage