The Lost Daughter

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Lost Daughter
dir-scr Maggie Gyllenhaal
prd Charles Dorfman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Talia Kleinhendler
with Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Ed Harris, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Dominczyk, Peter Sarsgaard, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Panos Koronis, Ellie James, Ellie Mae Blake
release US 17.Dec.21,
UK 7.Jan.22
21/Greece 2h01

buckley harris mescal

41st Shadows Awards
Jessie Buckley

london film fest

Is it streaming?

johnson and colman
As an exploration of motherhood, this film has a remarkable complexity that sets it apart, especially since it centres around yet another mesmerising performance from Olivia Colman. Writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal takes an internalised approach that's engaging even if it sometimes feels meandering and indulgent. It also taps into sharply resonant themes using a range of interconnected mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and lovers. And it finds truth in contradictions.
Arriving on the Greek island of Spetses for a summer holiday, university professor Leda (Colman) settles into her sea-view flat before hitting the beach to do some work in the Mediterranean sunshine. But her idyll is interrupted by the arrival of a large boisterous family, including young mother Nina (Johnson) and her demanding little daughter. This reminds Leda of when she was a young mother (then Buckley) to two noisy girls (James and Blake) with her husband Joe (Farthing). And like now, the constant childish disruptions made it difficult for her to feel like herself.
Gyllenhaal layers several more relationships into the narrative, including two men Leda meets on the island: beach-hut boy Will (Mescal) is young enough to be her son, while her flat's caretaker Lyle (Harris) is old enough to be her dad. And there's more texture from Nina's fiercely confident, clearly criminal husband Toni (Jackson-Cohen) and her pregnant sister Callie (Dominczyk). In the flashbacks, which grow from a flicker into extended scenes, it's an affair with a mentor (Sarsgaard) that triggers Leda's actions for multiple reasons. And even Leda struggles to understand why she makes the decisions that she does.

This ambiguity adds remarkable richness to the performances, especially the connections between the characters. At the centre, Colman beautifully understates Leda's offbeat personality, awkward interaction and deep love of life despite so many annoyances. Her scenes with Johnson, Harris and Mescal are cleverly played to raise questions. In the flashbacks, Buckley pretty much has to hold her own, and she finds some wonderfully unpredictable angles on Leda's perception.

The point perhaps is that there's no such thing as a good or bad mother: everyone is doing the best they can, and for Leda the key is to maintain her mental health. In taking on this rather intense theme, the film feels a bit overlong and repetitive, with some self-conscious editing and unfocussed sequences. But it's so beautifully shot and played, and it rummages around beneath the surface so ruthlessly, that it can't help but open our eyes. And our hearts.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 13.Oct.21 lff

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall