“Stephanie Daley” opens in confusion. A woozy teenage girl is put into an ambulance. Reporters swarm around a courthouse. Snippets of dialogue — “where’s the baby?” and “tried as an adult” — are identifiable. Something huge has happened in this quiet upstate New York town.
The title character, played by Amber Tamblyn (Joan of Arcadia herself), is a teenage girl who gave birth on a class ski trip, only to claim she never knew she was pregnant and that the child was stillborn. The district attorney’s office sees things differently.
Leading up to the trial, Stephanie is examined by Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton), a forensic psychologist tasked with determining Stephanie’s state of mind at the time she gave birth, and whether she truly didn’t know she was pregnant. Lydie is pregnant herself right now, 29 weeks along (Stephanie was 26 weeks when she delivered), and still mentally scarred from having a stillborn baby of her own not long ago.
Written and directed by Hilary Brougher, “Stephanie Daley” is a self-serious exercise in screenwriting games. Stephanie and Lydie have numerous parallels in their lives, you see, including minor ones (they both love cats, for example) along with the significant ones already mentioned. So they’re a lot alike, you see, and their stories unfold in alternating flashbacks. All of which is supposed to illuminate some great truth about … what? Womanhood? Pregnancy? The circle of life? Whatever it is, I’m not seein’ it.
I do like some of the individual elements, however, including Swinton’s and Tamblyn’s concrete performances. And consider the hot-button issues addressed: Stephanie is a sheltered, ultra-conservative religious girl from a church-going family whose one sexual experience was a near-rape. How accountable is she? How much about sex and pregnancy did she know?
This may be a film that simply speaks more to women than to men, which is fine. But its forced parallels and over-dramatic tone don’t do it any favors.
C+ (1 hr., 30 min.; )