“A woman’s beach vacation takes a dark turn when she begins to confront the troubles of her past.”

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Writers: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elena Ferrante
Staring: Olivia Coleman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Ed Harris, Dagmara Dominczyk
Release Date: December 31, 2021

Do you want to be a parent? That is the question The Lost Daughter (2021) will ask you.

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut takes Elena Ferrante’s novel and transcribes its psychologically centered story to the screen in evocative ways. The Lost Daughter is not an uplifting movie, but it is a thoughtful one.

Leda (Olivia Coleman) is a 48 year-old divorcee mother of two taking a working vacation to Greece. She expects a relaxing time along a small beach in a quaint town, but that is all upheaved when a loud, brash and dangerous (according to some) family also begins sharing the real estate. Leda is a lonely individual already struggling with her own self, and those emotions are amplified when she sees a young mother Nina (Dakota Johnson) reluctantly taking care of a young baby. The complex emotions Leda feels trigger flashback sequences to when she was younger and mothering her two young daughters while also balancing a devotion to work and her studies. The stresses of that time led to young Leda making some life decisions and parenting choices that some may deem regrettable, and now in her late forties she is still groping with the ramifications of the decisions she has made.

Over her time in Greece she encounters many emotional battles that are triggered by interactions with Nina, the house keeper Lyle (Ed Harris), the over-stepping Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk) and the local worker boy Will (Paul Mescal). By the end of The Lost Daughter, Leda’s time in Greece seems more like an abstract intervention and introspection of herself and the decisions a parent has to make when they have a child. It pins the classic talking point of “are you ready for being a parent?” and takes aim at the premise with a double-barrel shotgun.

Gyllenhaal knocked it out of the park in her directorial debut. Reading the Oscar tea leaves, it looks like The Lost Daughter is going to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the awards, but it’ll be a staple in terms of the honorable mentions. The same thing happened last year with another directorial debut, Regina King’s One Night In Miami… (2020).

You look at The Lost Daughter and One Night In Miami and on the surface it is hard to see striking similarities. Look deeper, both Gyllenhaal and King go about making their movies in much of the same way. Both directors chose to adapt stories that contain deeper thematic elements, and both directors brought together and uses casts with enormous talent bring the worlds and themes to life.

Where The Lost Daughter finds its advantage is in its setting and its consistency.

The small setting of a coastal town in Greece adds more intimacy to Leda’s internal turmoil. Gyllenhaal uses the beauty but doesn’t rely on it. King’s One Night In Miami…was primarily in one room, and while it is used to its max capacity, The Lost Daughter has the advantage of twinkling the viewers eyes while still delivering a powerful message and self reflective story. Also this story of motherly doubt transfixes timelines without taking anything away from the experience. The flashbacks to young Leda are stitched in the right way, always accenting a point just enough to the point where it forces the audience to dive a bit deeper into its own thoughts and interpretations.

When I speak of consistency, I am speaking about how the performances of the actors bounce off one another and how well they carry through the movie. In The Lost Daughter, there is not a single bad performance. There is no one you can point to that is poor or even average. Olivia Coleman is a rockstar and the fact she doesn’t even have the best performance in this movie is a profound statement and achievement. Jessie Buckley as young Leda is so fucking good. Just so fucking good. Ed Harris is wonderful as the host for elder Leda, and Dakota Johnson portrays the unenthusiastic mother with the perfect dose of sympathy and contempt.

You rewatch One Night Miami… and there are some amazing performances like Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke and Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, but Eli Goree as Cassius Clay and Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown are not no the same level. They are not bad by any means, but they are not excellent.

The Lost Daughter ending poses you with a question, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read the rest of this review.

*Spoilers*

Is Leda alive or dead at the end of The Lost Daughter? It is left up to interpreation.

For a quick reminder. Leda was stabbed in the stomach by Nina when she revealed that she stole the doll of Nina’s daughter and kept it for an extended time even when that family and the young girl were freaking out. She does not attempt to heal her wound and her body shuts down while she is driving down the curvy dark road leaving her vacation home. Leda veers off the road and the stumbling Leda arrives on the beach and collapses just in front of the crashing waves. When she wakes up, she has a smile on her face and she immediately begins talking to her daughters on the phone and listening to what they have to say.

Is this a Nirvana for Leda? Sitting at the beach in peace and quiet talking with her estranged daughters like nothing is wrong…that seems like heaven to someone who struggles with family ties, memories and burdens. Or, is this a new dawn for Leda? Was her admitting that she stole the doll the first step in a rebirth for her? Admitting that she handed away her parenting duties for a time and now needing to come to grips and live with the wounds that resulted from the decision. One could argue that as well.

*End Of Spoilers*

The Lost Daughter is one of the best movies this award season. It has some of the best acting of any movie that will be competing for accolades this season. It is a must watch.

STANKO RATING: A (4.5/5 Stars)


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