Can a film be considering exceptional if the first two acts are brilliant, but trails off as the third act rears its ugly head? That’s the question I’d like to address with my review for Stockholm, Pennsylvania. As all forms of art are concerned, the full product is only as good as its weaknesses, and unfortunately, Stockholm, Pennsylvania showed so much promise, just to dovetail into a disappointing ending.
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Release Date: January 23, 2015 (Sundance)
After 17 years of captivity, kidnapping victim Leia (Saoirse Ronan) returns home to parents she has no recollection of. While Glen (David Warshofsky) is passive (but confident) about Leia’s transition into her new life, Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) is desperate to recreate the attachment and bond between a mother and her child. Yet, despite all of Marcy’s attempts to reconnect, Leia’s transfixed with her captive, Ben (Jason Isaacs), while also struggling to make sense of reality and the lies Ben fed her for almost two decades. After no progress is made, Marcy’s desperation takes a dark turn as she suddenly becomes the monster she tried so hard to protect Leia from.
The acting in Stockholm, Pennsylvania is brilliant. Ronan and Nixon delivered performances that should honestly be considered for major studio nominations. Leia is written as a complex character who is both headstrong and confident in herself, yet naïve to the real world. As the story progresses, Leia begins to break out of the hold that Ben held on her while she attempts to make sense of her new life. Ronan’s ability to balance the contrasting elements of Leia’s character should not go unnoticed, and will hopefully elevate her to the next level. On that same note, Nixon’s take on Marcy is so thrilling and provocative as audiences witness a Mother driven to dark lengths to ensure she can once again become the mother to her child that went 17 years without one.
The performances wouldn’t be as strong as they were without writer/director Nikole Beckwith’s vision. Stockholm, Pennsylvania is adapted from her stage play, and it truly shows thanks to the close-knit scenes between actors. Structured much like a short story, many of the narrative’s details go unsaid, leaving audiences to fill in holes. As someone with a Literature background, I loved how the details left unsaid shared the same importance with the details that are openly addressed.
However, as I inferred earlier, the film comes apart in the third act as Marcy spirals into an antagonistic role towards Leia. The character twist comes off too exaggerated and unrealistic and essentially changes the film’s tone from a psychological drama to a pseudo-suspense thriller that ultimately takes away from all of the goodwill built up prior to the conversion.
Despite a disappointing third act, Stockholm, Pennsylvania is still one of the better films I watched at Sundance. Beckwith’s take on examining the post script of a life following such a traumatic event like Leia experienced is intriguing, especially in the wake of the media blitzes that surround these situations; it’s a perspective that many don’t typically consider. With stellar performances by Ronan and Nixon, Stockholm, Pennsylvania is well worth the price of admission, even if the ending ultimately falls flat.