NEW TO NETFLIX! Storytelling is what I enjoy most about films. More than the acting or production values, I just want to be taken on a journey for 90 minutes. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter is a simmering character drama that led me to a surprising destination.
Leda (Olivia Colman) is an Italian literature professor on holiday/sabbatical at a beach resort in Greece. While enjoying the sun and working on papers by the seashore, a large New York family takes over the beach to celebrate a very pregnant Callie’s (Dagmara Dominczyk) birthday. To accommodate her large gathering, Callie insists that Leda move to another part of the beach, but she refuses. Thus, a battle of wills is formed.
Off in the distance, Leda observes Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter, both of whom are part of Callie’s contingent. Unfortunately, Nina’s daughter is left on her own to play and inevitably wanders from the group. The resort is now on full alert, searching for the girl. Thankfully, Leda is the one who finds her, forging an odd bond between Leda and Nina.
But that’s only part of the story. Nina’s relationship with her young daughter is paired with flashbacks of Leda’s early years as a mother. The young Leda (Jessie Buckley) is married with two daughters of her own, and she soon learns that she’s not made out for motherhood. She’s constantly at odds with her daughters’ behavior and always seeks solitude from her brood. But temptation lures her in the form of Avant-Garde Italian-literature Professor Hardy (Peter Sarsgaard).
“… she’s not made out for motherhood. She’s constantly at odds with her daughters’ behavior…”
If you like your movies grand and “cinematic,” The Lost Daughter will surely disappoint. I love films where the stakes are low, and instead, we’re given an insightful characters study of human behavior. There’s a path that Leda goes down, starting with her younger self and ending with the elder’s present contentment involving a doll she stole from Nina’s daughter.
On the one hand, we see Leda as a woman who wanted to be a mother but was thwarted by the realities of being one. Yet, there is a responsibility inherent with having a family that goes beyond our wants and desires, leading to the consequences of just walking away. Leda’s past is probably the grander of the two tales and informs the small and subtle things the elder does in the end.
I like studying people and behavior, and The Lost Daughter just feeds into this fascination with imperfect people indulging in their narcissism. Couple that with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s direction as we immediately connect with Colman as Leda and her need to be alone and this truly complicated relationship she develops with Nina. Cracks in Leda’s armor slowly form, and our loyalties begin to shift constantly.
Most criticism I’ve heard for The Lost Daughter surrounds the low stakes. They are rarely life and death — but more reality drama — which to me translates to relatable, but others will see it as dull. I couldn’t help but think that I know people like this… in fact, I may be a person like this. The beauty of the film is just how genuine and down-to-earth the performances are and how Gyllenhaal maintains a natural, authentic tone throughout.
"…Gyllenhaal maintains this natural authentic tone throughout the film."