When you hear news stories about long-missing children being found, the joy you feel for the parents probably overshadows the murkier issues. For a child who lived for years with an abductor, being uprooted from that familiar situation and taken “home” must be jarring. What about a child who was taken at such a young age that she doesn’t remember her real parents?
That’s the idea at the center of “Stockholm, Pennsylvania,” a sincere but convoluted drama by first-time writer-director Nikole Beckwith. It begins with 22-year-old Leanne (Saoirse Ronan) being delivered to her parents, Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) and Glen (David Warshofsky), after living for 17 years with a man named Ben (Jason Isaacs), who kept her in a basement and told her the outside world had ended. Ben renamed her Leia. It’s the only name she ever remembers having.
Leia, as her reluctant parents must now call her, isn’t just ill at ease with them, but with society as a whole. As seen in theatrically staged flashbacks, Ben educated her, but he controlled her access to information, deceiving her about many things and limiting her experience to the basement (she’s never seen a toaster, for example). She’s now aloof and alien, like a species in the wrong habitat, mistrusting of anyone but Ben. She’s quick-witted and logical, has no patience for her parents or her court-ordered psychiatrist (Rosalind Chao), and always outwits them in conversations. She comprehends that Marcy and Glen are her parents, but her only emotional attachment is to the one person she’s had any interactions with for the last 17 years — the man who’s now in prison.
Marcy has the hardest time coping with the new Leia, and the film hints delicately at the strain these years have caused on her and Glen’s marriage. It’s Marcy whose actions drive the film’s second half, which is where Beckwith’s sympathetic exploration of complex, difficult emotions turns into Lifetime movie territory. Marcy, her efforts to bond with her daughter failing, tries controlling her the way Ben did. Whether it’s for a logical reason (this is what Leia is used to, so maybe we should introduce her gradually to the idea of self-determination), or because Marcy is desperate and nutty, isn’t clear. Nixon’s performance dances on the edge of histrionics, but Ronan is good as a steely-eyed, emotionally restrained young woman. The story ends in a laudably provocative way, but the almost-campy plot mechanisms leading to it make it hard to take it very seriously.
C+ (1 hr., 40 min.; )
Originally published at GeekNation.