Powerhouse perfs by Swinton and Tamblyn lend humanity to controversial tale

Stephanie Daley

on April 20, 2007 by Francesca Dinglasan
Veteran thespian Tilda Swinton and up-and-coming young actress Amber Tamblyn turn in a couple of gut-wrenching performances in Stephanie Daley, an intriguing and difficult take on the gamut of emotions involved in the extremely personal experience of pregnancy. Hilary Brougher's script, while at times leaning toward the overly dramatic, never shies away from even the most sensitive of issues associated with expectant women and the psychological ramifications of their decisions, both conscious and unconscious.

In the role of the titular character, Tamblyn plays a 16-year-old dealing with the normal concerns of most high-school girls, including struggles with her parents over independence and confusion about her burgeoning sexuality. Stephanie's road to womanhood, however, is revealed to be vastly atypical from her peers, in that she is being brought up on murder charges for the death of her newborn. Claiming that she was unaware of her pregnancy and that the baby was stillborn, Stephanie is required to meet with forensics psychologist Lydie (Swinton), who is herself several months pregnant. As Stephanie unveils the details of her story during their ongoing sessions, Lydie is forced to confront her own deeply buried feelings over a late miscarriage she suffered during a previous pregnancy.

As seeming foils that actually parallel each other in agonizing ways, Swinton and Tamblyn solidly anchor Stephanie Daley from its complex beginning to end. Similar to her turn in last year's Thumbsucker, Swinton is at once understated and powerful as a woman coming to terms with her unfulfilled needs. Tamblyn, meanwhile, plays her role with such conviction and force that her performance has a visceral effect on audiences. (In the film's most notorious scene, Tamblyn's physical embodiment of Stephanie's loneliness and pain while giving birth in a public bathroom stall during a school ski trip reportedly landed her the starring role in the horror sequel The Grudge 2.)

In addition to the two female leads, filmmaker Brougher does exceptionally commendable work on Stephanie Daley. In both directing and scripting her sophomore effort, she displays unusual bravery—not only through her willingness to tackle the controversial subject matter, but more tellingly by her deliberateness in leaving the film's morality open-ended. Distributor: Regent
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Amber Tamblyn, Timothy Hutton, Denis O'Hare, Melissa Leo and Jim Gaffigan
Director/Screenwriter: Hilary Brougher
Producers: Sean Costello, Samara Koffler, Lynette Howell and Jen Roskind
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for disturbing material involving teen pregnancy, sexual content and language
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: April 20, 2007 NY

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