Stephanie Daley

Regent Releasing

Opens April 20

Sundance Film Festival 2006–It's a sad but factual reality that women are still vastly underrepresented in American film, both mainstream and indie. Nonetheless, this year, there were more films written and directed by women than the usual, which may signal a positive change. Four of the 16 films in competition displayed women voices and center on female protagonists, benefiting from what we call in film studies the female gaze, or a uniquely female (and sometimes feminist) perspective.

In Hilary Brougher's second feature, “Stephanie Daley,” the eponymous heroine, a teenage girl (wonderfully played by Amber Tamblyn, star of TV's “Joan of Arcadia”) is forced to come to terms with killing her own baby, while going through an interrogation by Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton).

When 16-year-old Stephanie Daley is accused of murdering her newborn, she claims she never knew she was pregnant and that the child was stillborn. Forensic psychologist Lydie Crane is hired to determine the truth behind Stephanie's continuing state of denial.

Meanwhile, some revelations are made about Lydie's personality and life. We learn that Lydie is pregnant herself and grappling with her shaky marriage (Timothy Hutton) as well as a growing intuition that something may go wrong with her own unborn child. Lydie's encounters with Stephanie soon lead her to believe that unraveling the teenager's mystery is crucial to her own fate. The resulting parallel journeys lead each woman to a place of self-realization and acceptance.

What begins as an after-school special, or a story taken from headline news, gradually becomes a provocative examination of two vastly different women, who nonetheless go through personal crises at the same time.

The story may be too ambitious for its own good, and the parallels between the two women's respective crises often feel schematic and unwarranted. Like “Equus” and other features, “Stephanie Daley” is yet another film in which the person in authority, here a female psychiatrist, proves to be almost as problematic and in a state of turmoil as her patient.

The anticipated climax, in which Stephanie recreates the experience of abortion, is graphically violent and almost too painful to watch. The film's dark tone and lack of hopeful ending makes it interesting for savvy and patient viewers, but a tough commercial proposition for audiences expecting a neat and clear resolution

Ever since its premiere in January 2006, the film has won the Best Screenplay at the Sundance Film Festival, Best Cinematography at the Woodstock Festival,
Best Actress for Amber Tamblyn, at the Locarno Film Festival, Best Director at the Jackson Hole Film Festival, and Supporting Actress nomination for Amber Tamblyn at the 2006 Spirit Awards.

Credits

Directed by Hilary Brougher
Screenplay: Hilary Brougher
Producers: Lynette Howell, Samara Koffler, Jen Roskind, Sean Costello
Executive Producers: Doug Dey, Tilda Swinton
Co-Producer: Terry Leonard
Director of Photography: David Morrison
Editor: Keith Reamer
Music: David Mansfield

Cast

Lydie (Tilda Swinton)
Sephanie (Amber Tamblyn)
Paul (Timothy Hutton)
Frank (Denis O'Hare)
Miri (Melissa Leo)
Joe (Jim Gaffigan)
Rhana (Halley Feiffer)
Casey (Kel O'Neill)