Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Pristine white slopes offer expanses of clean, untouched snow, until rudely interrupted by startling splotches of red. Bloody footsteps, trailing from ski boots introduce us to Stephanie Daley, (Amber Tamblyn) a 16 year old, church-going high school student. After a brief hospital stay, she is seen leaving court amid a flurry of photographers, some staking out her house, and it is apparent that something bad has happened.
The teen has given birth on a school ski trip and the infant is dead, allegedly stillborn, but suspicions swirl around Stephanie. Her parents deal with the dilemma differently. Joe Daley (Jim Gaffigan) drowns it in booze and isolation, while wife Miri (Melissa Leo) lives in optimistic denial. The two have a tense relationship, hiding behind false smiles as they hiss accusations at each other in church, barely able to communicate in any meaningful way.
Pregnant after her first sexual encounter, either Stephanie slowly comes to the realization that she is pregnant or figures, “Is that all there is?” and moves on with her life, unaware. She will never again exchange words with the baby’s father (whom she meets just once at a classmate’s keg party).
Forensic psychologist Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton) is the prosecution’s appointed professional to interview Stephanie in a series of videotaped sessions, and try to determine what happened and why.
Lydie herself is pregnant. This is her fourth try at motherhood, the last ending in the stillbirth of a premature daughter. The two women have a connection which unifies and polarizes them at the same time. They have little control over their bodies and circumstances, their relationships with husbands and boyfriends, and the uncertainty of life within life that is pregnancy. They relate as women and mothers - or more accurately, child-bearers (neither of them has produced a viable baby thus far). Parallels of fear, guilt, and shame wash over them for different reasons that emerge slowly throughout their relationship.
Stephanie’s story is told in flashback, interspersed with present day events. Meanwhile, Lydie goes through an emotional whirl wind, worrying about her own fragile pregnancy. She finds a solitary earring in her home and questions her husband Paul’s (Timothy Hutton) fidelity. She’s becoming full of the very fear that she’s hearing about on a daily basis from Stephanie.
The film touches on religion and sex, abstinence, denial and regret but does not resort to preaching a desired position. There’s the ghost of abortion which haunts both women for different reasons but unites them in understanding. The Scarlet Letter is being discussed in high school English class and Health is full of baby dolls and plastic eggs with beepers and buttons affixed to simulate the demands of real infants. Talk about rubbing it in. Poor Stephanie is wallowing in external stimuli as pervasive as amniotic fluid.
An excruciating labor and delivery scene is captured in a traumatic silent scream by a riveting Tamblyn in a public restroom of a ski lodge; fellow students enter and exit never suspecting that a classmate is giving birth a few stalls down. The version of events that Stephanie recounts about this will either acquit her of murder or send her to jail. Even though we witness the scene, we are never really sure of the absolute truth, though it will come out in a way that explains things but does not resolve them.
There are no neatly wrapped conclusions to console the viewer, just slowly revealed insight and discovery; even the fate of Lydie’s fetus and marriage remains a mystery.
Amber Tamblyn has a pensive, quiet intensity, at once genuinely bewildered and all-knowing. Her innocence and level of knowledge is always in question. Tamblyn plays as if she herself seeks the answers to her character’s actions and we want to follow her to the conclusion, believing her, but willing to be surprised.
Tilda Swinton, also executive producer, masters the art of gentle, almost hypnotic interrogation. She plays her character as a consummate professional with massive, multi-layered insecurities. Facial gestures, more than statements, convey the message all the more convincingly.
Timothy Hutton as the husband who wants to be supportive of his wife but has his own resentments to battle plays Paul as a somewhat reluctant advocate for Lydie. He musters just enough concern for her to make us wonder if he wants to see this pregnancy through, or if he is indeed being faithful to his wife. We are never sure.
Melissa Leo and Jim Gaffigan as Stephanie’s parents, create their own tightly controlled turmoil, forced to examine themselves as parents of a daughter who is either a rape victim or a murderer.
Stephanie Daley won Best Screenplay at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, Best Cinematography at the 2006 Woodstock Film Festival, Best Actress at the 2006 Locarno International Film Festival, and Best Director at the 2006 Jackson Hole Film Festival/2007 Milan International Film Festival.
Writer/Director Hilary Brougher (The Sticky Fingers of Time) steers her film into a thoughtful, understated but powerful female POV. It does not disintegrate into cliché-ridden conclusions or judge the actions of its characters. It merely presents a story as a factual occurrence and lets the viewer come away with images and information from which to draw their own conclusions. Filmed in upstate New York on HD video, the film has the look of an urgent, timely documentary.
With an effort like this under her belt, I look forward to even more new arrivals from the fertile mind of Andrea Brougher.