Stockholm, Pennsylvania (2015), Film Review from the 37th Annual Sundance Film Festival, a movie directed by Nikole Beckwith, starring Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs, and David Warshofsky.
Some films provide an escape from reality while others dare you to sit up in your seat and confront it, to question it. This film, undoubtedly, fits into the latter category. It is a tense, surreal experience.
Following her release after being held captive for over 17 years, LeAnn (Saoirse Ronan) is returned alive to her parents, Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) and Glen (David Warshofsy). With all the nervous energy in the world, Marcy embraces LeAnn (“Can I hug you?”) like not a day has passed – but LeAnn isn’t having any of it (“Can we stop hugging now?”). Her real name is Leia, she informs her parents, her real birthday is on March 13, and she doesn’t practice organized religion (“Church is for people who don’t believe in themselves”). She genuinely insists that she’s misunderstood; when her court-appointed therapist (Rosalind Chao) comments that she should be proud of herself for surviving, Leia asks, “Survived what?”
And thus begins the slow revealing of just how damaged the seemingly-unscathed Leia is. It’s called Stockholm Syndrome, in which those held captive develop feelings of sympathy and respect for their captors. (The most memorable and notorious case of this in recent years is that of Utahan Elizabeth Smart, who denied her true identity when questioned by the police multiple times).
In a quiet but forceful performance, Ronan executes her lines with a delivery that is confidently biting. Possessing seemingly all the knowledge in the world, she easily dismisses the concerns of her parents, especially her mother, and therapist. She often spends time alone in her room reliving key moments with Ben (Jason Isaacs), her captor, who is now in federal prison for his crime. Her calm, distant gaze is especially enigmatic – what is she thinking? The ambiguousness keeps the audience invested in the unfolding of her assimilation back home.
While her father prefers a more hands-off approach to reacquainting himself with Leia, her mother has other plans. With the kind of fierce, obsessive love that perhaps only a mother could possess, Nixon falls victim to the crime that keeps on giving. Her attempts to hold herself together after discovering that Leia secretly visited Ben in prison fail in spectacular fashion, and she becomes more paranoid and intrusive as the hours pass. Thus, she begins her own tragic descent into something from which she may never be able to escape.
There is no doubt that this is an impressive first feature from director and screenwriter Nikole Beckwith. It is impeccable in its execution, from the spare score that refrains from emotional manipulation, to the air of mystery built around possible physical or sexual abuse (which is neither confirmed nor denied), to the magnificent and Oscar-worthy performances she elicits from the cast – particularly from Nixon, who truly delivers a tour de force performance.
If this film becomes lucky enough to land a distributor that’s skilled in awards campaigning, it – and Nixon – will surely demand attention.
Stockholm, Pennsylvania is screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition and has yet to be acquired for distribution.
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Image Source: Sundance Institute