Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Starring: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Dominczyk, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Peter Sarsgaard, Ed Harris
Run Time: 121 mins
The Lost Daughter is the directorial debut from actress Maggie Gyllenhaal based on a 2006 novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante. It follows a middle-aged professor Leda Caruso who is holidaying in Greece. She is clearly carrying a lot of emotional baggage and we learn that she’s had a rocky relationship with her children due to her finding motherhood unwieldy. When she is resting on a beach, a fellow holidaymaker Nina (Dakota Johnson) notices her young child goes momentarily missing. Leda finds her and reunites her with her mother but the girl has lost her prized doll, which causes her distress. It is revealed that Leda has taken the doll, for god knows whatever reason, and is a theme that recurs time and again throughout. Gyllenhaal explores the parallels with Leda’s complicated experiences in her life with her Greek holiday.
The Lost Daughter is a strange film and whilst it’s never boring, I struggled to connect with the characters. Whilst Olivia Colman’s performance is typically excellent as Leda, her character is deeply troubled and unlikeable. That’s not a problem in itself as there are plenty of excellent deceitful characters in film but Gyllenhaal fails to fully explore the ideas she sets up. There are some interesting notions on motherhood, such as the under-explored idea that a mother may not always like her children, which the film is on the cusp of unpacking.
Jesse Buckley plays Leda in her younger years and like Colman, has received lots of awards attention for her performance. I thought Buckley’s performance was terrible. Her British accent constantly slips and slides and she’s totally unconvincing as a young mother. Of the rest of the cast, Ed Harris is fine but isn’t given a great deal to work with and Dakota Johnson is underused as the young mother and her difficult familial situation is also under-explored.
Whilst The Lost Daughter is far from a conventional debut in its ambitious narrative and unsettling tone, Gylllenhaal’s debut is ultimately disappointing in that it fails to fully explore its themes. I’m surprised the film has resonated with critics as much as it has. The Lost Daughter is drawn-out, tedious and unfortunately doesn’t hang together.