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The Lost Daughter (2021)

JoeStemme

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Title: The Lost Daughter

Tagline: Being a mother is a crushing responsibility.

Genre: Drama

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Cast: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Domińczyk, Alba Rohrwacher, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Panos Koronis, Robyn Elwell, Ellie Mae Blake, Athena Martin Anderson, Alexandros Mylonas, Nikos Poursanidis, Konstantinos Samaa, Emmanouela Zacharopoulou, Alma Stansil, Daniela Babek, Ellie James, Isabelle Della-Porta, Vassilis Koukalani, Spyros Maragoudakis

Release: 2021-12-16

Runtime: 122

Plot: A woman's seaside vacation takes a dark turn when her obsession with a young mother forces her to confront secrets from her past.

Maggie Gyllenhaal's feature Directing debut begins in Greece, where a lonely professor, Leda (Olivia Coleman), has gone for what she hopes will be a quiet vacation. She's greeted by an expatriate American who is the caretaker of her rental villa, Lyle (Ed Harris). Her plans are interrupted almost immediately by a boisterous clan who seemingly take over the beach and the village. One of them is Nina (Dakota Johnson) who totes along a young daughter. When Nina's child goes missing, it triggers within Leda memories of her own troubled motherhood. In flashbacks, we see Leda and her own daughters in England. Her younger self is played by Jessie Buckley.

Even for an experienced filmmaker balancing two parallel stories is a difficult lift. Gyllenhaal (who also wrote the screenplay adaptation of Elena Ferrante's novel), does a decent job of setting up the structure, and she's greatly assisted by having two fine actresses to carry off the transitions. Buckley has the added burden of playing the same character as Coleman, who's screen presence alone forces one to see Leda primarily through her portrayal. It's to her and Gyllenhaal's credit that Buckley does it so seamlessly.

Where THE LOST DAUGHTER gets into difficulty is that young Leda's story becomes more and more interesting just as the present day version gets increasingly less so. Psychological dramas need to bore deep into a character's soul - particularly one as introspective as Leda. Leda teaches literary translations and is such a repressed individual that there is little room for expression. Twenty-something Leda is at a more interesting juncture in her life. She literally has her life before her. Still, that dichotomy wouldn't matter as much if the current day story were more compelling.

Despite Coleman's fine performance, the details never truly grip. The suspense is minimal outside of a concern for the mental well-being of Leda. And, there's a hoary device that is used as a symbol than may have worked in Ferrante's book, but here becomes increasingly risible. Gyllenhaal and Cinematographer Helene Louvart's decision to shoot everything in tight closeup has some quietly powerful moments courtesy of the fine cast (which also includes good turns by Peter Sarsgaard in the flashbacks and Paul Mescal in the present), but, loses its effectiveness over time. You travel to Greece to only show only people? It's certainly a valid method, but, unfortunately becomes more distracting as it goes along, effectively distancing the viewer from its subject.

THE LOST DAUGHTER boasts some fine acting and has a potentially interesting tale to tell, but, the two halves never form a complete picture of a complicated woman. What's truly 'lost' here is a cleanly defined perspective.
 
Movie information in first post provided by The Movie Database

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