The Lost Daughter - Movie Review

A well acted Internal Drama that could use more plot
The Lost Daughter
The Lost Daughter(Salon)
Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 12:01 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2022 at 1:22 PM EST
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Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal makes an auspicious feature film directorial debut with the adaptation (she also wrote the screenplay) of Elena Ferrante’s novel, The Lost Daughter. A drama of internal struggle for a college professor (Oliva Colman) whose involvement with a young mother (Dakota Johnson) and her family and other local people, while vacationing in Greece, stirs memories, and feelings of guilt, regret, and remorse. I consider myself a discerning movie viewer and I was looking forward to this film, even though I knew it would be “internal.” However, I found it slow, challenging, ambiguous and often uninvolving.

Olivia Colman (excellent as always) is Leda, a renowned scholar, who is emotionally closed off, cannot be bothered to talk to people and certainly has no interest in making new friends. This cold exterior gradually begins to melt, as she interacts with the aged handy man of her vacation rental, Lyle (Ed Harris), A young, handsome summer resort worker Will (Paul Mescal) and most significantly Nina (Dakota Johnson) her young daughter Elena (Athena Martin Anderson) and Nina’s formidable sister-in-law, Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk).

After an initially acrimonious encounter on the beach with Callie, Leda ingratiates herself with the family when she finds a lost Elena, who has wandered off into the brush. Although things begin to thaw between Leda and the family, she is warned to beware of them because they are “bad” people. But Leda cannot help herself, she is inexorably drawn to them, especially Nina, who reminds Leda of herself as a young mother. But a trip down memory lane for her is not a pleasant one. Elana’s missing doll further complicates things, but it becomes a bit silly when the doll seems to be the only plot point in the narrative.

All performances are very good; along with Colman, the actress playing young Leda, Jessie Buckley is impressive, and Johnson gives perhaps her best performance to date, as the stunning mysterious, burdened mother. The camera loves Johnson, and every time we see her, she is an enigma. There is something dangerous, sad, and unpredictable about her.

Much of the film takes place in the past, and some of the present scenes seem superfluous, including Leda’s friendship with Lyle. Another problem is Leda herself, she isn’t a particularly sympathetic character, nor is she that interesting. Clearly, she has made mistakes but when confronted with them, she is just too opaque and ambiguous. Most of the supporting characters aren’t that likeable either. I don’t believe that characters must be likeable to be interesting or understood, but with the protracted length, internal conflict, and a main character I’m just not that interested in, it is a tough go. It’s confusing, and not satisfactory.

On a positive note, the direction, the cinematography, the music, and the acting are all first rate. As well she has created an evocative mood. I look forward to Ms. Gyllenhaal’s next movie when she chooses a different story to tell.

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