British-American academic Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) can do something logical. And that logical thing is to take a retreat with her fellow academics. In doing so, she might deal with the members of that profession and their varying degrees of agreeable or insufferable. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter eventually shows a younger version of Leda (Jessie Buckley) taking such a retreat and meeting a fellow academic (Peter Sarsgard), but her present day version has her taking a road less travelled at least to her. She takes her working holiday to a Greek island that has its disruptions.
Some of those disruptions come from the well meaning staff (Ed Harris and Paul Mescal). Their attentiveness to Leda, by the way, emphasizes intentionally uncomfortable class boundaries between that group and her. Other disruptions specifically come from a crass second generation Greek-American family. A more sympathetic member of that family though is Nina (Dakota Johnson). She observes Nina more closely by the day. And by then, the more the latter’s motherhood troubles remind her of her own struggles as a young mother. During one of the days when she reluctantly shares the beach with that family, Nina’s daughter Elena goes missing. She finds Elena but she takes girl’s doll, keeping it for reasons she can’t explain herself.
Films about complicated mothers and non-mothers judging mothers will never be the cup of tea for everyone. This is especially true for critics and viewers who, never say never, might never have children of their own. It’s pretty understandable even for non parents that there are certain hands off experiences. Experiences, specifically, that only a certain percentage of the population might understand. And thus, the other demographic shouldn’t judge the first demographic about anything at all from the outside.
Sorry if that feels convoluted, so in order to fast track through my thoughts, it does feel like The Lost Daughter falls into the trap of having ad hoc judgmental characters although in fairness, people in real life judge each other all the time for things they know nothing about. This is specifically true in the scenes between Leda and Nina’s aunt in law Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk). Callie, among many things, judges Leda for not remembering anything about how difficult it was to raise kids. Nonetheless, The Lost Daughter does capture specific things about human nature. The arguments between Leda and Callie shows how instinctual humans can be. The collisions between Leda and the family also feel like there’s more thought to it.
Other movies that have the same type of conflicts pale in comparison to The Lost Daughter, regardless of how many stars I’m giving it. The film, in essence, captures how characters roll the dice when they let other people into their lives. It also shows how relationships just like the one between Leda and the family are tenuous. Even scenes that seem like filler, like young Leda’s encounters with hitchhikers, reinforce the film’s thesis statement. Other critics have noted the film’s observational ways, which is something I agree with for the most part. It’s a good character study for Colman whose character, like most people, act differently alone than they do around others. Colman gives the necessary crying scene that doesn’t feel like she’s begging for a second Oscar. And she incorporates moments of levity in this drama which, for the most part, is a successful mix.
The Lost Daughter gets a theatrical release during December 17 and gets a release on Netflix on December 31st.
- Rated: R
- Genre: Drama
- Release Date: 11/17/2021
- Directed by: Maggie Gyllenhaal
- Starring: Dagmara Dominczyk, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Jessie Buckley, Olivia Colman, Paul Mescal, Peter Sarsgaard
- Produced by: Charles Dorfman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Talia Kleinhendler
- Written by: Elena Ferrante, Maggie Gyllenhaal
- Studio: Endeavor Content, Faliro House Productions, Pie Films, Samuel Marshall Productions