Directed and Written by: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Starring: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson
Film Review by Robert Stayte
Actors turned directors sometimes make great films, sometimes they make bad films. Recently there has been more of the former than the latter, whether it be Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born or even under the radar ones like Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn. Throwing themselves into the game this time is Maggie Gyllenhaal, a highly underrated actress and one who, with this adaptation of the Elena Ferrante novel that she can be an effective director as well as writer.
On a holiday in Greece, University Professor Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman/Jessie Buckley) is isolated and alone. When she starts observing a mother named Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her situations, she reflects on her own past as a mother.
Gyllenhaal’s ambitions might seem simple, but the complicated themes of the story, the unpleasant cast of characters and the non-linear narrative are all factors that could easily overwhelm her. Luckily, she manages to execute these things very well.
The nature of motherhood, regret and how the past is weaved into the present is at the forefront of the film and is explored in a manner that is depressing yet intriguing and relatable. Anyone wanting to be a parent will gain insight, actual parents will find something to relate to and someone not interested in being one might be validated. The characters are certainly flawed, yet layered and human enough to not be totally unbearable. The non-linear narrative is integrated well and never feels unneeded, as there is always a relation between the scenes in the two different timelines.
It is also a film that is centred on and carried by its leads. Colman and Buckley continue to prove their worth to the recent silver screen, with their best moments being non-verbal. The supporting cast is more sporadic in their appearances, though Ed Harris is charming in a somewhat against type role as an attempted suitor. Dakota Johnson could have had more screentime, but she plays both frustrated and vulnerable well in a performance that shows the typically sweet natured actress has a lot of range.
Gyllenhaal’s camerawork goes for a slightly handheld and tight close aesthetic that is admittedly small scale to a fault, but it is enlivened by the music and editing. The score by Dickon Hinchliffe is catchy and full of intrigue and editing wise, though the pacing is slow, the sometimes out of order flow is creatively presented and clear.
The Lost Daughter is an effective debut for Maggie Gyllenhaal, with a lot of intriguing elements and strong enough execution to make it worthy of a long post film discussion.