Stephanie Daley

(2007) *** R
92 min. Regent Releasing. Director: Hilary Brougher. Cast: Tilda Swinton, Amber Tamblyn, Timothy Hutton, Melissa Leo, Jim Gaffigan.
Writer-director Hilary Brougher brings satisfying subtlety to Stephanie Daley, an issue film about a sixteen-year-old who may or may not have murdered her newborn child in a public restroom. The film gains much of its potency from the clash of slow-boiling Amber Tamblyn (in the title role) and Tilda Swinton, who brings her customary soulfulness to the part of Lydie Crane, the forensic psychologist investigating Stephanie's state of mind. Brougher makes the psychologist a formidable sparring partner and mirrored protagonist-antagonist to Stephanie; Brougher further raises the stakes by making the psychologist pregnant, and self-consciously so. How fine is the line separating a sane choice from a moment lost to mad despair? Is Stephanie's denial surrounding the death pathological or willful? Do bad things happen by divine design, free will, or happenstance? The film's lean 92 minutes crackle with these questions until an ending that, while giving us more closure than we might expect, leaves a lingering, provocative ambiguity.
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