The New Year is upon us, and as we polish off the last remnants of a tub of Quality Street, and think about that diet we plan to start in early January (then abandon by mid-February), Netflix has decided to do us a solid by serving up a new movie. That new movie arrives in the form of psychological drama, The Lost Daughter.
Based on the book of the same name by Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter stars Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Ed Harris, and Peter Sarsgaard. The film tells the story of a middle-aged British college professor called Leda, who travels to Greece for a vacation, only to find herself spending her days lost in dark thoughts of the past.
In the movie, Leda is taking a work-based break to spend some time in the sun. She aims to keep herself to herself for a few weeks, with some quiet time on the beach.
But the silence is soon broken, when a large family invade Leda’s space and cause a disruption. The family are loud and brash, and their presence instantly changes the whole atmosphere.
Amongst the group is a young woman named Nina, and her daughter, Elena. The pair catch Leda’s attention, and their interactions kick-start a collection of supressed memories for Leda, relating to her own experiences as a mother.
What follows is a psychological journey as Leda relives moments from her past – moments tinged with sadness. She thinks back to how she acted around her own children during their younger years, and the choices she made for better or worse.
Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Lost Daughter is a slow-burning tale about motherhood and depression. It is a film which looks at the reality of raising children when you don’t naturally take to the task, and is at times uncompromising in its approach to being a parent.
This is also a film which is very much a character study, as well as a platform for the acting talents of Olivia Colman. It gives Colman the opportunity to explore the facets of Leda, unspooling her many layers, while deep diving into the psyche of someone who is forever battling her inner demons.
The Lost Daughter is not a movie that will be to everyone’s tastes – it isn’t a straight forward picture, nor is it a comfortable ride. Some will watch this movie and find themselves intrigued for the most part, but will be left unfulfilled by journey’s end, and possibly even disappointed.
However, this is not to say The Lost Daughter doesn’t work, or that it is a completely flawed film, it is simply a movie that needs audiences to connect with it on a different level. This film is about subtleties and subtext, rather than huge revelations, and I’ve no doubt that many will find it fascinating.
For me, I fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to my opinion of this picture. I think parts of it are a triumph, while other parts are less so.
Colman is without doubt the shining beacon in this movie (more about her in a moment), and I believe actor-turned-director, Maggie Gyllenhaal, demonstrates a commanding presence behind the camera. But I’m not sure everything comes together in the way it should.
The central mystery at the heart of The Lost Daughter is not really much of a mystery at all, and the story itself seems to peter out rather than reach a huge climax. So, while I am on board for a great deal of what the movie has to offer, I can’t help but feel that it never quite reaches its target.
As noted above, this is a slow burning picture and one which values your investment in the story. Those who will get the most out of The Lost Daughter are audiences who find themselves caught up in the psychological aspects of the film.
If you can get into the mind of Leda, and get to grips with her thoughts and feelings, I believe you will have a better experience with the story. If not, then at the very least you can find something outstanding in Olivia Colman’s performance.
Colman has proved herself time-and-time again on the big (and small) screen and is one of those actors you can’t help but fall in love with. She has a natural way of bringing characters to life, and her turn as Leda very much fits this ‘realistic’ approach.
It’s the subtle things, the little nuances that Colman brings, which really sells Leda as three-dimensional character. Whether she is sat on a sun lounger munching on a Cornetto; getting frustrated with disruptive arseholes in a noisy cinema screening; or just wanting a little bit of peace and quiet to eat a meal, Colman makes Leda representative of the common person – the everyman or everywoman so to speak.
By making Leda instantly relatable, Colman ensures her character is someone that audiences want to spend time with. So, even if you feel the movie falls short in places, Colman remains consistently mesmerising throughout.
To aid Colman’s performance, director Gyllenhaal makes this a very intimate picture. She brings the camera in close, with plenty of shots designed to evoke Leda’s headspace.
By doing this, the director makes it clear that this is a more personal story, and one which is very much a character driven affair. This is not some flashy picture, filled with huge spectacle, but rather a film that keeps things at ground level.
This is something I liked. The Lost Daughter is a fine example of using camera work to draw attention to performances.
It is also a film designed to hold an audiences’ attention, and it certainly does that. It kept my interest for the majority of the movie, only really losing it a touch when I started to get that niggling feeling that no huge denouement was coming.
But this is where I believe this movie falls down. The set up is strong, the narrative is interesting, and Colman is Colman, but the payoff doesn’t hit in the way it should.
When the film reaches its final moments, it’s a little uneventful. All the way through, it is clear this is a story about the journey, rather than the destination, but that doesn’t stop it leaving you wanting a little bit more punch to round things off.
Overall, The Lost Daughter has a lot going for it, with Colman and Gyllenhaal being the big takeaways. There are also strong turns from Dakota Johnson as Nina, and Jessie Buckley as a young version of Leda (as seen in flashbacks).
But it didn’t quite tick all the boxes for me. I believe The Lost Daughter is a picture with bags of potential, but not quite the oomph to get it across the finish line, and it sets up too many threads it doesn’t tie up.
Despite my feelings on the movie, you should expect to hear a little more about The Lost Daughter over the coming months, as the film has been nominated for multiple awards, ranging from Golden Globes to London Film Critics Circle Awards. It has also won a bunch too, having picked up various accolades in recent weeks.
But I would suggest you note the categories where this movie has largely excelled (Outstanding Lead Performance for Olivia Colman, Best New Filmmaker for Maggie Gyllenhaal, etc) and remember this is where the movie’s strength largely lies. There are very strong elements to this film, and the awards reflect this, but it is a movie best approached with caution.
Watch The Lost Daughter for Colman, or to see what Gyllenhaal brings to the screen, but don’t expect to come away entirely satisfied. It’s a good start to the year, but not quite the solid opening that I would have liked, so I largely remain on the fence with this one.