Time: 121 Minutes
Age Rating: Sex scenes, offensive language & content that may disturb
Olivia Colman as Leda Caruso
Jessie Buckley as Young Leda Caruso
Dakota Johnson as Nina
Peter Sarsgaard as Professor Hardy
Ed Harris as Lyle
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
A college professor (Olivia Colman) confronts her unsettling past after meeting a woman (Dakota Johnson) and her young daughter while on vacation in Italy. Her obsession with the woman and her daughter prompts memories of her early motherhood.
The Lost Daughter is the third of the three movie tickets I secured as part of the NZIFF, and it’s one of my most anticipated movies of 2021. This would be Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut and would consist of a great cast including Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, and Ed Harris. I went in only really knowing the main premise, seeing a trailer, and hearing that some people had split reactions to it. I’m glad to say that I’m one of the people who really liked The Lost Daughter.
The Lost Daughter is a bit of an unconventional movie, at least with its narrative. Essentially it follows Olivia Colman on a holiday in Greece, she meets a woman with a difficult child (played by Dakota Johnson) and that brings up her own motherhood with her two young girls portrayed in flashbacks (with the younger Colman played by Jessie Buckley). The film then jumps between past and present, revealing the regrets and reflections that Colman has. The plot definitely unravels in an unusual way but very much moves to its own rhythm and pace. It could’ve been a mess of a structure, but Maggie Gyllenhaal pulls it off, I was invested enough in the story and character to want to see and learn more. The Lost Daughter is essentially an unflinching character study following a woman thinking back on her life, and it’s also a look at motherhood which touches on the struggles of parenthood and the toll it takes on the parent. Additionally, it delves into themes like femininity and motherhood, and the feelings and regrets that come from being a mother. It’s not an easy movie to watch, I know that many viewers will struggle to stay following this protagonist with some of the things she does, and it’s a hard topic to cover (and one that a lot of people don’t like to think about). However Gyllenhaal pulls it off by remaining empathetic, not judging its characters, and handles its challenging views on motherhood with a lot of nuance. Its very honest, meditative and human as certain truths are revealed about different characters. In terms of issues with the film, the constant flashbacks can take away from the depth of character work in the present sections, and they are jarring in the first act. Also at the end, some things weren’t as tied up as greatly as I would’ve like, there was particularly one conclusion towards the end which felt a little bit of a let down.
The acting is phenomenal and one of the best parts of the film. First of all is the lead character Leda, who is a complex character that is full of contradictions. She is selfish and unlikable at times, a very difficult character to play. However both actresses do a superb job at portraying her. The present day Leda is played by Olivia Colman, she is a quiet presence. D plays her with a lot of nuance and in a way that makes you understand her. One of her best performances, and that’s saying a lot considering a lot of her recent work. Jessie Buckley plays the younger Leda, and she was a perfect casting choice as a younger Colman. She’s more showy than Colman’s comparatively subtle performance, but she effectively portrayed her desire for an escape out of her motherly life and really plays up her humanity. Another fantastic performance from Buckley. Both Colman and Buckley are believable as the same person, while avoiding feeling like they’re trying to imitate each other. The two performances are full of empathy and fleshed out versions of the same character. Dakota Johnson is used sparingly in this film but this is very likely one of the best performances I’ve seen from her. She’s able to tell a lot without saying much, even just with her facial expressions, body language and subtle glances. Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal and Oliver Jackson-Cohen are comparatively short on screentime but all do well to make their presences felt and are good in their parts.
As I said earlier, this is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first film as a director and she’s done a great job here. It does feel like a debut movie with some aspects with the camerawork and editing, but it’s a strong debut nonetheless. The eerie atmosphere helped the movie to dive deeper into Leda’s headspace throughout. The cinematography is also great, with making use of the locations in Greece in the present day, but are particularly effective with the close ups of the characters.
The Lost Daughter is not an easy movie to watch and isn’t for everyone. However I thought it was great. A slowly paced yet engaging and compelling character drama, we’ll directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and with phenomenal performances, especially from Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson. The movie will be on Netflix in December, and I think it’s worth checking out at the very least.