“The Lost Daughter” is far from a pleasant movie going experience. The directorial debut from actor Maggie Gyllenhaal (who also adapted Elena Ferrante’s novel for the screen) is sustained by a trio of knockout performances from Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Jessie Buckley, but the film is a draining, sedate observation of maternal ambivalence.
Enjoying a solitary vacation at a beach in Greece, Leda (Colman) becomes consumed with the relationship between a young mother (Johnson) and her daughter. Watching them interact through a series of prickly encounters, Leda is soon overwhelmed by her own memories of being an inexperienced (and in her eyes, subpar) parent to her two daughters. Regrets come flooding back as Leda explores some of the decisions she made in a series of vivid flashbacks, struggling with past choices that many would view as selfish.
The story doesn’t translate well to screen, with lots of pensive moments of Leda staring off into space. The film has a very lonely feel, and you can really tell it’s a book that was made into a movie. The ending is a bit of a letdown too, with very little by way of resolution. Some of the film’s more interesting scenes come from Johnson as a woman struggling to grow into the role of a good mother. In the end, some will be ill-suited to motherhood, and it’s sad that society pushes self-doubt on women who decide kids aren’t for them. The thorny subject matter is haunting, even when the movie stalls.
Gyllenhaal is a better director than I expected, although the film seems like a bit of an endurance test that was designed by an actor who thinks it’s an “easy” job to oversee a small-scale passion project. She takes the material and herself seriously, which is commendable.
This is a film that I would guess would resonate more powerfully with women who have experienced motherhood. It ponders the more dynamic aspects and complicated feelings that come with not only having a child, but living with remorse about the things you could’ve done better. None hit home for me (as a childless woman), but there are still many elements that make “The Lost Daughter” a worthy, self-assured directorial and screenwriting debut from Gyllenhaal.