J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Stockholm, Pennsylvania: From Sundance to Lifetime

Ben McKay represents science fiction fandom at its absolute darkest. After kidnapping four-year-old Leann Dargon from a playdate, McKay renames her Leia, after you-know-who and trains her to worship the universe. At least, he spares her the Xenu creation myth. Brainwashed into believing the apocalypse has transpired, Dargon spends seventeen years in McKay’s basement before the police finally find her. McKay was the only world Dargon ever knew. One hesitates to use the word “family,” but that was how she saw him, making her homecoming decidedly awkward in Nikole Beckwith’s Stockholm, Pennsylvania, which premieres on Lifetime this Saturday after screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival (yes, true story).

Dargon does not remember her parents and she is woefully under-socialized, so Marcy Dargon tries (unsuccessfully) to temper high hopes for their reunion. More circumspect by nature, her husband Glen just wants to settle into a routine and proceed to let time heal wounds. Since she makes little attempt to hide her affection for McKay, relations between mother and daughter start to fray as soon as they are re-established. It is all painfully believably for a spell, but as soon as the Dargons separate, the film descends into dark but ludicrously overwrought territory.

It raised some eyebrows when a dramatic competition selection at this year’s Sundance bypassed theaters, heading directly for Lifetime. However, it makes sense when you take into account the fact it isn’t very good. For most of the film, Cynthia Nixon’s overacting is locked in a death struggle with Saoirse Ronan’s bloodless understatement. Frankly, the latter looks like she is just trying to get through a mistake, which is understandable. In contrast, Nixon approaches the sort of self-indulgent twitchy bombast Meryl Streep specializes in. That is not a compliment.

Still, David Warhofsky is completely credible as the put-upon, conflict-avoiding Glen Dargon, while Rosalind Chao’s Dr. Andrews serves as the film’s voice of reason, in more ways than one. It is a really smart supporting turn—and somehow all the best written dialogue comes in her scenes.

Beckwith stacks the deck against Marcy Dargon, well beyond all reason and fairness. (I can’t speak for a twenty-two year old woman with Stockholm Syndrome, but trust-building exercises like the old “fall backwards and let me catch you” game are a surefire way to alienate me.) The flashbacks featuring McKay are also invariably clumsy and the big twist ending is a complete misfire that really makes no sense when you start to think about it. If Stockholm, PA had focused more on Leia/Leann’s sparring sessions with Dr. Andrews, her court-appointed head-shrinker, it might have gotten further, but as it stands, the film gets to be a real chore at about the hour mark. Not recommended (but a weird spectacle to behold, nevertheless), Stockholm, Pennsylvania airs this Saturday (5/9) on Lifetime.

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