I think I’m going to start writing Stockholm, Pennsylvania fanfic. It’s not that I’m a fan of this particular movie. It’s just that, after watching it last night, I’m convinced that I could probably write a better version of the same story. At the very least, I could come up with a better ending.
(And who knows? Pennsylvania is technically close enough to Canada that I could do a Degrassi/Stockholm crossover.)
Stockholm, Pennsylvania premiered on Lifetime last night and, as a result, it will always be known as being a Lifetime movie. However, unlike such excellent films as Babysitter’s Black Book and Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal, Stockholm was not originally made for television. Instead, it was meant to be the feature film directorial debut of playwright Nikole Beckwith. Earlier this year, it played at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received some memorably mixed reviews and the film’s star, Saoirse Ronan, received more attention for her work in Brooklyn. And while Brooklyn was picked up by Fox Searchlight and declared an early Oscar contender, Stockholm, Pennsylvania was ultimately purchased by the Lifetime network.
Unfortunately, Stockholm, Pennsylvania is not the type of film that is served well by premiering on television. For the first 45 minutes or so, it’s a low-key film that moves at its own deliberate and moody pace. The film doesn’t have the right rhythm to remain compelling when combined with frequent commercial interruptions. And make no mistake about it — the interruptions were frequent! The 99 minute film was padded out with enough commercials so that, on television, it ran for 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Or, as I put it on twitter when I discovered that the movie wasn’t as close to being finished as I had originally assumed:
The film opens with kidnapping victim Leanne (Saoirse Ronan) being returned to her parents after spending 17 years living in the basement of Ben McKay (Jason Isaac). As we see in flashbacks, Ben kept Leanne isolated from the rest of the world and raised her as his own daughter. Ben also renamed her Leia but, at the same time, he apparently never let her watch any movies. (“He said I was named after a princess,” Leia cluelessly says at one point.) Ben also taught Leia to regularly pray to the Universe (“Dear Universe…”) and … well, that’s all we really learn about Leia’s relationship with Ben. And while I love cinematic ambiguity, the ambiguity of Stockholm, Pennsylvania just feels lazy.
Having been rescued (under circumstances that are left ambiguous because this is a lazy fucking movie), Leia is reunited with her parents, Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) and Glen (David Warshofsky). Leia doesn’t remember either of them and resists all of Marcy’s awkward attempts to force any sort of emotional relationship.
And, for the first half of the film, it’s actually fairly interesting. Nixon gives a good performance and Ronan proves again that she’s one of the best actresses working today. The film is moody and properly creepy and I was really interested in seeing what would happen…
And then, out of nowhere, an entirely different movie started. Suddenly, Marcy’s character completely and totally changed. Nixon stopped giving a good performance and instead became shrill and one-note. Ronan continued to give a good performance but the entire film crashed and burned around her. It all led up to quite possibly one of the worst endings that I have ever seen. It was seriously one of those endings that made me want to throw my high heels at the TV.
Seriously, it was terrible. In fact, it was so terrible that it didn’t matter that the first 45 minutes of the movie were not neccesarily bad. It did not matter that Saoirse Ronan was giving a great performance. It did not matter … well, nothing mattered.
Once I saw that ending, all I could think of was that I had just wasted two hours and 30 minutes on a film that was apparently made by someone who studied both Martha Marcy May Marlene and We Need To Talk About Kevin without ever understanding what made those two films worth studying in the first place.
Saoirse Ronan saved the film from being a complete disaster. It truly says something about her talent that she can give a good performance even when appearing in something like Stockholm, Pennsylvania (or Lost River for that matter). She’s like Meryl Streep without the condescending attitude.
I’m looking forward to seeing Saoirse Ronan’s work in Brooklyn. But Stockholm, Pennsylvania is best forgotten.