“Stay the Same Never Change” is one of the most realistic renderings of the life of teenagers in America
Dir. Laurel Nakadate (2009, USA, 93 mins.)
Laurel Nakadate’s debut feature film, Stay the Same Never Change, is deeply rooted in her previous video art pieces; in fact, it was originally conceived of as video art and only later became a narrative film. Though written as an unconnected series of vignettes about teenage girls in Middle America in which Nakadate would play each girl, the project evolved such that Nakadate added narrative arc to the vignettes and cast non-professional actors. This last item deserves some expansion. Not only do non-professional actors play every part: they use their real names, speak lines they helped write, use sets that are their real homes, wear costumes that are their real clothes, and act next to people who are their real parents. The resulting film oscillates between video art and narrative film, and between visual fact and narrative fiction. It is comparable to Harmony Korine’s Gummo, though Nakadate’s commitment to realism is far superior.
There is something especially jarring (and unbelievably refreshing) about Nakadate’s use of non-professional actors. They have none of the habits of professional actors that sometimes remind us that we are watching a film – they sometimes mumble lines as though we are not listening, they stray from the frame like we are not watching, and they are willing to appear deliberately foolish and personally vulnerable as though we do not exist. Their performances are relentlessly honest portrayals of teenagers. They are barely able to communicate with one another – they rarely listen to and constantly talk past each other, heaping incoherence upon incoherence. Their clothes do not fit properly. Everything about them is clumsy – their flirting, their friendships, their thinking. They are uncomfortably vulnerable.
It must be said that the narrative arc in Stay the Same Never Change is much less pronounced than other films – its video art roots are quite exposed. An audience should not expect to follow a unified or straightforward plot. Rather, expect a narrative arc devoted to the themes of both adolescence and femininity – alienation, vulnerability, self-obsession, and self-doubt. The narrative can be bewildering – however, we are meant to share this feeling with the characters themselves.
Stay the Same Never Change is one of the most realistic renderings of the life of teenagers in America – whether we are comfortable with this degree of realism is something else. At the screening I attended, Nakadate argued that, “Not feeling comfortable all the time is okay.” Audiences willing to feel uncomfortable ought to seek out this film immediately.