"Stephanie Daley"A young mother who throws her newborn away would seem to be prime subject matter for a TV special. Director Hilary Brougher may have intended to overcome such prejudice, but if she felt she had a story that needed to be on the big screen, it's difficult to argue in her favor.
"Stephanie Daley" takes the kind of hot news topic usually cashed in on by a network and combines it with an apparently extremely low budget. To its credit, it achieves more than mere melodrama, but it looks terrible even during its better moments, making the bad ones hard to overlook.
The movie's namesake (Amber Tamblyn) is a high-school-age girl who gave birth to a stillborn baby months after an anonymous hookup -- without, she claims, even knowing she was pregnant. Is she telling the truth? The tale unfolds during a conversation between the state's psychologist (Tilda Swinton) and the girl, which leads to numerous flashbacks, interrupted by brief forays into the psychologist's personal life. She's carrying a child, too, and it's a difficult pregnancy. The makers of "Daley" must think this means something to their story, though you'll be left wondering exactly what.
The central act of the film is not just alluded to but also shown in all the believable mortification and agony one can imagine a shy high-school girl going through. The relationships between Stephanie and her friends seem just as true. Without realizing what it has going for it, "Daley" keeps harping on Swinton's character, dealing with her difficult circumstances in one forgettable scene after another.
In the end, despite a good performance by Tamblyn, "Daley" can't overcome the combination of slow plotting and poor looks. Brougher shot the movie in bad lighting with a digital camera, resulting in a lot of foreground blur. It's distracting, and ends up making a case for the difficulty and expense of moviemaking. (R)