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In the movie, Stephanie is a shy, church-going, middle-class teen. How much she’s aware of what’s happening in her body, and when, is left open to question. “These girls are sort of in dialogue with the universe,” says Brougher. “They’re in flux as to whether they think they’re pregnant or not. And I got really interested in [asking]: How do we talk ourselves into something? Or out of something? There’s a lot of superstitious thinking around it.”
Tamblyn, who had her own anxieties during filming (between takes, she was on the phone, navigating a bitter breakup), says she understood Stephanie’s struggle. “Lots of personal tribulations happened for me while I was preparing for the role,” she recalls. “Plus, [there was] the lonely, very isolated environment where we shot the film, paired with an immense need to birth someone like Stephanie into the world.”
The film traverses some dark territory, but it isn’t all gloom and doom. Brougher has lightened the mood with humorous touches, like the sex education class where Stephanie and her classmates are given “beeper babies” and “beeper eggs” designed to teach them the responsibilities of parenting. The babies and eggs go off at inopportune times, creating absurd moments of tension. “Okay, whoever has a baby or an egg, do what you need to do, but just make them be quiet,” says an exasperated English teacher in one scene.
In fact, Brougher says, the set was surprisingly lighthearted and fun. “Tilda and Amber are extremely positive people,” she explains. “They’re also very funny, and I think that serves material that can go a little dark, because it doesn’t get so dark that the characters just start melting into dysfunctionality.”
For Brougher, it was a particularly happy consequence that the script took years to hone and produce. In the process, she gave birth to her twins, who she credits with making the movie happen. “I link this script to my twins,” she says. “I feel as though their birth helped me get the movie made; they made me the person who was ready to direct it. To direct it from a place where I’d had my own happy ending, with these two great kids, was a blessing.”
With Stephanie Daley, Brougher has proved that she has the chops to direct a delicate psychological drama. But, typically, she’s ready for another, completely different challenge. “One of my current projects is a script I’m writing that’s a contemporary retelling of Robin Hood,” she says. “It’s a sort of coming-of-age story that also involves Arthurian gymnastics.” She pauses for a moment, then deadpans, “It’s very different.”
Next up, though, she’ll be directing a screenplay adapted by her friend Keith Reamer (Stephanie Daley’s editor) from a novel by Scots writer Margot Livesey. Set around World War I, Eva Moves the Furniture is “a story about a young girl who’s raised knowing two ghosts who are constantly in her life. It’s very beautiful; it really talks about our connection to our ancestors.”
Perhaps, I suggest, the common thread in her movies is that there’s always some sort of barrier to connection between characters, whether it’s death, time travel, or pathological denial. “Well, yes, that’s basically me—struggling to connect across barriers,” Brougher says with a sigh. Then again, I point out, her vision is essentially optimistic: Barriers that seem insurmountable at the outset of her movies are broken down, slowly but surely. She tilts her head, considering this. “It’s true,” she says. “The films I love are the ones that provide a safe place to feel the dark stuff, and then help us let it go. So that we can focus on life, and growth.” She pauses a moment, and adds, “Filmmaking and mothering—they seem like similar animals to me.”
Stephanie Daley will be screened at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck May 11 to 18. Hilary Brougher will appear for a question-and-answer session following the May 11 screening. www.upstatefilms.org.
- Hillary Harvey
- Tilda Swinton and Timothy Hutton in a scene from _Stephanie Daley_.
- Hillary Harvey
- Filmmaker Hilary Brougher with her children at her fatherâ€™s house in esopus, where scenes from _Stephanie Daley_ were filmed.