Directed by: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Premise: Based on the novel by Elena Ferrante. A middle-aged woman (Olivia Colman) vacations alone on a Greek island. She crosses paths with a shady American family, triggering memories of her own troubled motherhood.
What Works: Most Hollywood films idealize parenthood. Even if the family is put through difficult circumstances, most mainstream movies ultimately affirm the idea that parenthood, and especially motherhood, is the most fulfilling activity available and all other considerations are secondary. The Lost Daughter is a film about motherhood but it questions that conventional wisdom. The film doesn’t reject the value of being a mother but it does portray a woman who chose differently and has complicated feelings about her decisions. Olivia Colman plays Leda, a professor of literature who is estranged from her two grown daughters. While vacationing alone, Leda reflects on her role as a mother and the circumstances under which she left her husband and their children. The younger Leda is played by Jessie Buckley and she’s well paired with Olivia Colman. The two of them are credible as older and younger versions of the same character; they share some of the same mannerisms but we can also see the excitement and youthful naivete in Buckley’s performance and the experience and regret of age in Colman’s scenes. Colman in particular impresses. Her acting is subtle but effective. She conveys much through the way she carries herself and the looks she gives to other people. This is a psychological film but The Lost Daughter never feels lost in its own thoughts. The story is told quite efficiently while allowing for complexity and depth. The flashbacks are placed effectively, filling in the backstory and informing our understanding of the present. The filmmakers also build an atmosphere of dread; Leda has a tense relationship with a vacationing family who may be connected with organized crime and the film has a growing sense of a danger.
What Doesn’t: The conflicts of The Lost Daughter are primarily internal with Leda wrestling with her complicated feelings about her relationship with her children. The drama remains at an intense simmer. Leda’s choices, both in the past and in the present, never really boil over into tangible consequences. The end of the film doesn’t really resolve these conflicts although it does bring Leda to an epiphany. The restraint of The Lost Daughter is appropriate to the tone of the story but it also leaves us waiting for something more decisive to happen.
DVD extras: Available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: The Lost Daughter is a compelling character study and a complicated examination of a woman negotiating motherhood with her career. It’s a quiet picture that makes a dramatic impact due to its smart filmmaking and central performance by Olivia Colman.
Episode: #887 (January 16, 2022)