Maggie Gyllenhaal steps behind the camera and hits a home run in her feature directorial debut, an adaptation of The Lost Daughter.
When it comes to actors stepping behind the camera to direct, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be a good film. Maggie Gyllenhaal has nothing to worry about with her feature directorial debut, which brings the mysterious Elena Ferrante’s novel to the screen. She hits it out of the ballpark! It certainly helps having a cast led by the powerhouse trio of Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Jessie Buckley. When you have the likes of Colman and Buckley in your cast, you can’t go wrong.
Leda (Olivia Colman) is vacationing by herself on the seaside when she grows entranced by a young mother, Nina (Dakota Johnson), and daughter, Elena (Athena Martin). Nina and Elena may surrounded by quite the extended family but Nina certainly feels out of place. However, watching Nina and Elena ends up triggering Leda’s own memories. Audiences will soon watch those memories play out. It’s like watching a different film! Pay attention closely to see how present-day Leda is compared to her younger self (Jessie Buckley). Do these early memories explain why Leda makes some of her contemporary decisions? I personally can’t explain why she does what she does but her past behavior could be a clue. But also, people are able to evolve, too.
The film is certainly a drama. However, there are times when it boils very close to thriller territory. This is especially true when Leda interacts with Nina. Colman plays menacing so well and it shows in this film.
One thing I love about the film is how Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley work together to portray Leda. Nobody is impersonating anyone here. If anything, the two of them only discussed which accent to use. It would be unfair to each to make them impersonate each other! Which reminds me, Jessie Buckley should absolutely be in the conversation for Best Supporting Actress. Coincidentally, Colman suggested Buckley at the same time that Wild Rose was opening. Given that The Lost Daughter really explores parenting and how it impacts parents, people should resonate with Buckley’s performance as the younger Leda. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a mother herself and her lived experience certainly informs her writing and direction of the film, including her direction of Dakota Johnson.
One change did come about because of the pandemic: The Lost Daughter shifted production from the US to the Greek island of Spetses. Production designer Inbal Weinberg imagined a Cape Cod vacation when putting together the look book. With the seclusion in Greece, it meant items had to be shipped in because cast and crew were not free to come and go.
Nobody knows who Elena Ferrante is in real life but her novel spoke to Gyllenhaal. Through the film, Gyllenhaal seeks to recreate her own experiences of reading the book but as a shared communal experience. In fairness, if you’re watching from home, you’re missing out on theatrical experience. There’s something about seeing this film on the big screen where you’re able to let it sit with you for a while.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Maggie Gyllenhaal
CAST: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal, and Dagmara Dominczyk
Netflix releases The Lost Daughter in theaters on December 17 and starts streaming on December 31, 2021.
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