Sundance ‘15 Review: Saoirse Ronan in STOCKHOLM, PENNSYLVANIA
There’s always been something disturbing to me about the Back to the Future trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, they are among my favorite films of all time, and they influenced much of my childhood. The problem that has long weighed on my mind, however, is that even though Marty’s changes to the past made his family members more successful, healthy, and/or outgoing, he returns to a life, a reality, that isn’t his. On the surface, he’s in a better situation than his former life, and obviously a way better place than the dark timeline Biff creates in BTTF: Part II. But even though those people are indeed his family, he no longer shares any memories with them. Other than names and faces, those people are strangers to him. With that simple shift in perspective, if we continued following Marty’s story, I believe it would eventually turn dark; it would be bleak; it would be pretty damn interesting.
Stockholm, Pennsylvania springs from that same idea of picking up where most stories end. Writer-director Nikole Beckwith’s drama starts where the usual abduction thriller leaves off — the moment when the victim is returned home. In this case, though, the victim, Leanne (Saoirse Ronan), has been in captivity most of her life. Renamed “Leia” by her captor, Ben (Jason Isaacs), and raised with no formal education and under the belief that the outside world had been destroyed, she is returned "home" to her mother (Cynthia Nixon) and father (David Warshofsky), whom she doesn’t remember, and is reintroduced to a world she knows even less about.
As Leanne’s mother, who resorts to using increasingly unsettling methods to try and reconnect with her daughter, Nixon gives the most compelling and layered performance of her career. On the other hand, Ronan’s wide range is relegated to a character who doesn’t have much light shed on her inner struggles, forcing the actress to work within the subtle shades of a young woman who comes off, frankly, as robotic.
It’s admirable that Beckwith took on such heavy subject matter for her feature debut, exploring the devastating and long reaching damage of child abduction and the difficulty of attempting to reacclimatize a victim to normal life. Unfortunately, the movie’s unique premise is at times its greatest hinderance. With Leanne’s captor behind bars, the movie lacks the suspense and subsequent relief that would have been inherent in the usual kidnapping movie. Again, there are many interesting places you can take that, but here the drama is way too drawn-out, and is often more frustrating than fascinating, making it feel much, much longer than its 100 minute runtime.
The director does show some flair in the way she stages flashbacks to Leanne being raised by Ben. But the stark reality she builds throughout the film is shattered by an ending that will no doubt stir up conversation — with some sure to appreciate its haunting sentiment — but that ultimately feels inauthentic to the rest of the movie.