Stephanie Daley Movie Review

As film subjects go, newborn death and its connections to the abortion debate are about as easy to approach as a pit of bible-carrying vipers. Though its plot comes straight from the Lifetime channel production line, the truth of the situation presented becomes more fleshed out and personal but nevertheless controversial to anyone who has followed similar stories on the nightly news. As one would guess, it's with careful steps that filmmaker Hilary Brougher takes on this subject in her sophomore effort Stephanie Daley.

Stephanie (Amber Tamblyn) was a good ol' religious girl before the whole rigmarole, spending Sunday morning at church looking after little kids while her parents (Jim Gaffigan and Melissa Leo) make small talk with the priest and other parishners. Being a sweet girl, her heart can't help but go out to the soldier-to-be who she meets at a friend's party. Sure enough, their quickie tryst ends with a bun in the oven and the boy nowhere to be found. Ultimately, Stephanie ends up giving birth on a school ski trip in a public toilet. The premature baby dies, leaving the world stunned and with nothing but questions galore.

Brougher balances this with the story of Stephanie's psychologist. Dr. Crane (Tilda Swinton) is a few weeks away from giving birth when she is called in to consult on the Daley case. As if that didn't make her nerves do a waltz, she's also convinced that her hubby (Timothy Hutton) is having an affair and doesn't tell anybody but her seemingly asexual buddy Frank (Denis O'Hare). Though it puts her own pregnancy in jeopardy, Crane soldiers on to try to find the reasoning behind Stephanie's actions and what happened on that ski trip.

Composed mainly of a series of visits between the forensic psychologist and the titular mommy, the film gets muddy here and there, but Brougher understates and underplays almost every scenes. Successfully alleviating the melodrama, Daley then becomes a study of isolation; a state that the film points out seems all but unavoidable for many women. Daley becomes isolated from her parents both in shattered faith and expectations, but Crane is no better off. The emotional bedlam that pregnancy wreaks on a woman's body isn't shied away from, and it diffuses the need for moral bartering when Brougher portrays Daley's controversial act. Though the scene focuses on Daley and not the shock of the action, one can't help but cringe at the use of The Wrens' "Everyone Choose Sides" on the soundtrack.

Ultimately a well-made mixture of Law & Order and a movie of the week, all seams are bound tight by Brougher's leading ladies. Swinton, ever resilient, marks every swift change of mood with human instinct, shying away from placing blame and focusing on the personal turmoil a pregnancy can bring out. One expects brilliance from Swinton, but Tamblyn is a revelation. Not once does the young actress overstate her character's emotions, showing remarkable brevity in the face of a confounding character. Brougher's film boils a rambunctious issue down to the personal bruises, rightfully neglecting the public while also addressing it.

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Cast & Crew

Director : Hilary Brougher

Producer : , Lynette Howell, Samara Koffler, Jen Reskind

Comments

Stephanie Daley Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2006

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