In "Stephanie Daley," Tilda Swinton stars as Lydie Crane, a forensic psychologist in her final months of pregnancy. Despite her condition and the fact that she had a miscarriage less than a year earlier, Lydie agrees to take on the case of a teenaged girl named Stephanie Daley (Amber Tamblyn) who is accused of killing her newborn at childbirth.
Written and directed by Hilary Brougher, "Stephanie Daley" is a human drama wrapped inside a legal whodunit (it's sort of like "Agnes of God" minus the nuns' habits and beatific visions). Set in scenic Upstate New York, the movie explores the anxieties and fears that many women face before, during and after pregnancy. Lydie's situation very much parallels Stephanie's at times, resulting in a strange symbiotic relationship between the two women. Those parallels aren't always as clearly drawn as they might be, but the positive result is that the story is made less obvious and more intriguing by the ambiguity.
"Stephanie Daley" is a low-keyed, thoughtful work that doesn't go in for flashy melodrama or thematic overstatement. It allows its narrative to unfold slowly, finding much of its drama in the minutiae of everyday life in the small town in which it is set.
The movie is blessed with sensitive, subtle work from not only Swinton and Tamblyn but a large cast of secondary performers, including Timothy Hutton, Kel O'Neill, Denis O'Hare, and others. The relationships in the movie are intricate and complex, and the plot doesn't seek out a preset path or formula to follow. It's not a movie designed to appeal to mainstream audiences much, but for those who prefer their films to wander a bit off the well-beaten path, "Stephanie Daley" offers substantial rewards.
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