‘Stay Awake’ Review: Becoming Their Mother’s Caretakers

This story of a small-town family impacted by addiction succeeds in humanizing its characters but falters when it tries to include a coming-of-age tale.

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By Claire Shaffer

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Jamie Sisley’s narrative feature directorial debut, “Stay Awake,” is not a novel story for those with a family member or loved one struggling with addiction. A small-town drama, the film stars Wyatt Oleff and Fin Argus as two teenage brothers, Ethan and Derek, who are forced to become caregivers for their mother, Michelle (Chrissy Metz), after she becomes dependent on prescription painkillers. It’s an all-too-familiar scenario across the United States, and the highs, lows and disappointments that Michelle and her sons face throughout her rocky treatment are both incredibly human and unfortunately predictable.

“Stay Awake” does its best to center both its addiction story and Ethan and Derek’s own separate coming-of-age arcs, all without demonizing any of its characters.

It’s an admirable goal that sometimes comes off as clunky and meandering, such as when Ethan awkwardly breaks up with his girlfriend by revealing he plans to go to a different college. The ensuing drama doesn’t quite match up to the life-or-death stakes present elsewhere in the film, or even to other situations Ethan faces, like having a secret crush on a male classmate. Despite such shortcomings, Oleff, Argus and Metz succeed in depicting both the frustrations and the compassion associated with caring for relatives who continuously harm themselves.

Stay Awake
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters.

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