December 3, 2018

filmsgraded.com:
Stockholm, Pennsylvania (2015)
Grade: 58/100

Director: Nikole Bekwith
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs

What it's about. Leia (Saoirse Ronan) is a young adult woman who grew up confined to the basement of Ben (Jason Isaacs), who abducted her when she was four. Somehow, Ben has been arrested, and Leia has been freed, and returned to the home of her birth parents, Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) and Glen (David Warshofsky). Dr. Andrews (Rosalind Chao) is Leia's court-appointed psychiatrist.

Leia knows nothing about the world apart from what Ben has told her. She has apparently never watched television, listened to the radio, or surfed the internet. Her attempts to re-establish contact with the jailed Ben traumatizes Marcy, who reacts by becoming her captor, in a re-creation of what Ben earlier did to Leia.

How others will see it. Most people who know of Stockholm, Pennsylvania have seen it on the Lifetime cable channel, where it is in dubious company with stereotypical movies about psychopathic exes or fiancés. The mother's character turn undoubtedly confuses many viewers.

At imdb.com, Lifetime's target audience, women, grade it only 6.2 out of 10. Among viewers over age 45, a gender gap ensues, 5.9 from men and 6.4 from women. Viewer reactions range from disappointment to confusion, though some rave about Cynthia Nixon's performance.

Ambivalent audience reaction did not prevent the movie from attaining a slew of film festival nods, including at the Satellite Awards and Critics Choice Television Awards. It did best at the Women's Image Network Awards, where it won Outstanding Film Written by a Woman.

There was surprisingly little attention paid to Saoirse Ronan, given that she is the star of the movie. She has since become a bonafide moviestar, the lead in Mary Queen of Scots (2018) and Little Women (2019).

How I felt about it. Lately, I have been watching the first few minutes of various movies from longtime women-oriented cable channel Lifetime. Most of these movies appear formulaic, but Stockholm, Pennsylvania was something different, and sufficiently promising to merit watching the entire film.

Of course, it isn't really a Lifetime movie, which is probably why no characters are murdered, or engage in extramarital sex. Instead, Stockholm, Pennsylvania is an independent film, the debut effort of writer-director Nikole Bekwith. The script received a grant from the Oscars, and was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. The Lifetime channel soon snapped it up, and have always controlled its television rights.

Stockholm, Pennsylvania is not interested in stereotypes. The kidnapper is not a sex pervert who molests his captive, the mother is not a saint who knows just what to say or do, and the victim is a grown adult without anger in her heart toward anyone.

But if the film is not by the numbers, then what is it? A character study of five people, two normal and three unexpected.

In the "normal" camp is husband-father Glen, who reacts to life's challenges in a practical manner. When his wife turns crazy, he does make some attempt to reason with her, but quickly accepts that the effort is futile. Also "normal" is Dr. Andrews, who recognizes that the mother has become a lying control-freak, but won't make the transition from court-appointed shrink to a rescuer of Leia.

On to the unexpected characters. Leia appears calm, even flatlined, but there is an undercurrent of intense emotion (fear or pathos) that occasionally surfaces. She has spent her living memory in a basement, without television or other contact with the outside world except for her kidnapper, Ben. (A third, silent woman is shown in the basement with Leia and Ben, but her presence is one of the film's mysteries, along with what provoked Ben's arrest.)

Ben seeks a love object that he can own and control. He never sexually abuses her, because he has assumed the role of father. His motivations are selfish but not evil, since he does not wish to harm Leia.

The biggest surprise is the mother, Marcy. Played by the best-known actor of the movie (Cynthia Nixon, "Sex in the City" co-star and future gubernatorial candidate), she at first appears to be a normal, loving mother, but eventually becomes obsessed with controlling and punishing Leia, ostensibly to keep her from contact with Ben. But her actual agenda is to cement a mother-daughter relationship where Leia will be as emotionally dependent on Marcy, as Leia was with Ben.