Released: 31st December 2021
Seen: 13th February 2022
In 2006, the Italian novel La figlia oscura by Elena Ferrante was released. Eventually translated in 2008, the book got the English title of The Lost Daughter. This year at the Oscars the film adaptation of this would only receive three nominations, two for acting and one for the screenplay which honestly feels like a lot less than it deserves but considering the material, they’re definitely the best categories for a film like this.
The Lost Daughter follows Leda (Olivia Colman) who is just trying to have a nice little vacation where she can sit on a beach and eat cornettos but unfortunately, there are just a bunch of loud boisterous people around distracting her. The distractions become a lot more personal when a woman named Nina (Dakota Johnson) loses her child for a brief moment and Leda helps to find the child, stealing the child’s doll in the process. This one simple action sets Leda on a spiral as she reminisces about her days as a young mother (back when she was played by Jessie Buckley) and slowly comes to terms with how she abandoned her children and the emotional side effects that linger from that.
In her directorial debut, Maggie Gyllenhaal really shows off just how amazing she is not only with actors but in setting a mood. Every moment of The Lost Daughter feels immaculately planned out, if it’s not here to push the plot it’s here to create a tone that the film will slowly adjust throughout until the emotional peak of the film. It takes its time to show off the cards it’s playing and plays them just when it needs to. For example, I was wondering if The Lost Daughter was just going to be Olivia Colman sitting on a beach and eating cornettos when suddenly there was a baby missing, it was that perfect timing of just waiting until the audience wonders what’s going to happen before presenting it.
The story of The Lost Daughter alternates between a modern-day Leda trying to reconcile with her past and flashbacks of that past showing young Leda barely holding on with two rambunctious children and every time we get to see a little more of what young Leda had to go through just trying to be a good mother but feeling overwhelmed by it all we get a real sense of how this might cause her to be as withdrawn as she is. It’s basically a character study, the full plot of what happens on holiday mostly is just there to give an excuse to dive into Leda’s head and doesn’t really matter that much… which might also be a bit of a problem because unless you’re really into character studies, this might not work for you.
What makes this character study work for me is largely down to the fact that Leda is played by Olivia Colman who is the heir apparent to Meryl Streep, in that she keeps delivering top notch performances and making it look effortless while being constantly showered in awards nominations for her work. It’s not a comparison I make lightly either, Olivia is just perfect in this role and manages to work in those little details into her performance that makes for this rich completely engaging woman who you just want to sit with for a few hours.
Again, I was absolutely fine when I thought all I was going to see during The Lost Daughter was Olivia Colman on a beach eating cornettos for 2 hours, she’s that compelling an actor that the notion of that would’ve done it for me but then we throw on top of that all the drama and emotional complexity one could ask for and it’s just a stunning performance.
The other half of this performance is, of course, Jessie Buckley who does a fantastic job of showing us all the darker sides and has more than a few of the bigger scenes that make your jaw drop and force you to realise just how much the stress is getting to her, it’s honestly a fascinating supporting performance that definitely earns every second of praise and attention it’s gotten, not sure if it’s going to win anything but it’s absolutely a phenomenal performance in a very good film.
The Lost Daughter might be a little long at times, but it makes the most out of every second it has by creating this fascinating look into what it’s like to just try and deal with the aftermath of being overwhelmed as a parent. It’s powerful, well made and gorgeous… basically, it doesn’t shock me a little bit that this is a film that’s in discussion at Oscar time because it’s everything the academy loves, but it’s also long and slow enough that most audiences might not want to stick around.
The Lost Daughter is certainly worth giving a chance, you’ll get some fascinating performances to enjoy and the way Maggie Gyllenhaal films Greece is absolutely stunning but I won’t be stunned if people say they just can’t get into this one.