The Lost Daughter movie poster
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The Lost Daughter
The Lost Daughter movie poster

The Lost Daughter Movie Review

Olivia Coleman plays a prickly scholar on holiday in Greece in the unsettling drama The Lost Daughter, in which she helps find a missing girl but steals her treasured doll, all the while reflecting on her own complicated past with her daughters. Compelling but with no easy answers, the movie makes for a fine directorial debut for Maggie Gyllenhaal but hints to critical nuance lost in its adaptation from page to screen.

Featuring a terrific soundtrack, a stellar performance by Coleman, and a strong supporting cast that includes Jessie Buckley, Ed Harris and Dakota Johnson, Gyllenhaal has the ingredients for a successful and invigorating experience. And for a while, The Lost Daughter sucks you in with its quasi-mystery and seemingly complicated characters who all seem to be to some degree assholes.

Coleman’s character can be both kind and icy cold. The New Jersey entourage also vacationing at the same beach are referred to as “bad people,” and while they sometimes show a devilish side, she also sees some of her in them, most notably the young and frustrated mom played by Johnson. What does it all mean? Why are these people the way that they are? Where will the dynamic take them?

Gyllenhaal doesn’t answer many of the questions the film raises, though I think she thinks she did. There appears to be nuance and little details lost from the book that would paint a more complete, and more fulfilling, picture. This isn’t the kind of story that should wrap everything in a nice bow, but despite Coleman’s commanding performance and an increasing number of flashbacks to her as a young mother, the movie doesn’t fully capture or convey why she is the way she is, or why her interactions with the various people on holiday drum up old memories. The book, which I haven’t read, apparently explores her relationship with her own mother, a seemingly important facet of the protagonist's psychological makeup unfortunately excised from the film.

Aesthetically the movie looks nice as Gyllenhaal shows a deft hand behind the camera. She lays it on a bit thick with the closeup camerawork—perhaps intending to showcase the self-centeredness that best describes her lead—but otherwise delivers a product that defies the limited behind-the-camera experience she actually has.

The Lost Daughter is a worthy exploration into the expectations of motherhood and the complexities of a modern woman, but resolution—or elements of it—remain trapped in the pages of a book.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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