With across-the-board fine performances and a sobering and compelling story, Stephanie Daley is an insightful indie festival darling that will make every female viewer think twice about getting pregnant.
An idyllic day on the ski slopes is shattered when teenager Stephanie Daley (Amber Tamblyn) is found bleeding all over the pristine white snow. It seems that the 16-year-old girl has had a baby in the bathroom of the ski resort, and dumped her in a trashcan. So was it murder? Was the baby stillborn, as Stephanie claims? And did she not know that she was pregnant, as she insists? As her parents (Melissa Leo, Jim Gaffigan), law enforcement, and the residents of the small mountain town they live in struggle to understand just what happened to Stephanie, she faces prosecution for her baby's death. That's when psychologist Dr. Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton) is called on to evaluate Stephanie's mental condition, and to get to the bottom of the disturbing events. Lydie happens to be six months pregnant herself, and as she begins to unravel the mystery of Stephanie's actions, her own life and emotional state become inextricably tied to the girl's fate.
Amber Tamblyn, best known as TV's Joan of Arcadia and the star of The Grudge 2 and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, gives a striking performance as the title character, a shy and withdrawn teen whose life is turned upside down by her first sexual encounter. Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her performance, the actress expertly holds the screen opposite the formidable Tilda Swinton (the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia), who brings her usual top-notch talents to the film. She is eminently believable as a middle-aged woman whose late-in-life pregnancy brings out her emotional fragility and deep-seated fears--and causes a severe rift with her husband (well played by Timothy Hutton), who may or may not be having an affair.
Hilary Brougher wrote and directed Stephanie Daley as part of the Sundance Institute Screenwriters and Directors Lab, which stood her well when she took home the prestigious Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Her film was also nominated for that fest's Grand Jury Prize, but lost out to Quinceañera. But then she won best director at the Jackson Hole Film Festival that same year. All those accolades are well deserved, as Brougher has fashioned a tightly constructed tale that blends mystery, raw emotion, and provocative questions into a compelling film. It leaves much for the audience to contemplate and discuss after the credits roll. Completely character-driven, with no explosions or action sequences, this is a serious movie some may find a bit too slowly paced. But it is precisely the deliberate pace that keeps us fascinated, as the layers of both women's lives are peeled back to reveal inherent truths about motherhood and the changes it brings. Those realities are obviously something Brougher, the mother of twins, has personal experience with, experiences she expertly brings to the big screen.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.