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Dec 17 2021
Whydunit: A Review Of Maggie Gyllenhaal's Psychological Thriller THE LOST DAUGHTER Comments (0)

Olivia-colman-lost-daughter-boyculturePsychological-drama queen (Image via Netflix)

The Lost Daughter is what might've been called a woman's picture in the '40s. But if so, it's a real-woman's picture, one with a remarkably flawed and compelling focal character surrounded by other imperfect women, fragments and reflections of one another.

A compelling psychological profile, it is also a thriller, but only because the character its lead character is a mercurial risk junkie.

In what can only be described as a stunning debut, director Maggie Gyllenhaal has crafted a subversive story about a professor, Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman), vacationing on a Greek island who runs afoul of a mobbed-up family and of her own past when first a little girl and then the little girl's doll go missing.

Lost-daughter-olivia-colman-maggie-gyllenhaal-dakota-johnsonLeda is only to blame for one of the disappearances, but The Lost Daughter uses the odd incident to explore her past as “an unnatural mother,” as she calls herself, and her eventual icy bond with a young mom, Nina (Dakota Johnson), who seems similarly unnatural, all the while flashing back to young Leda (Jessie Buckley) and the decisions that have brought her to this point in her life. Don't look a gift flashback in the mouth — Buckley is perfection, and watching her young Leda interact with the father of their children (Jack Farthing) is gut-wrenching.

Leda seems drawn to Nina — but is it fascination, is it her suspicion that they have a shared failing — or is it something ... resentful? Is she her Billy Budd? After making the worst possible first impression with Nina's no-good brood and then abruptly making nice, Leda slides back out of their good graces, all the while fixating, voyeuristically, on Nina's phoned-in parenting skills, and flirting with worshipful young resort worker Will (Paul Mescal) and hate-flirting with the father of Nina's daughter, malevolent Toni (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).

Then there is uncomplicated Lyle (Ed Harris), who has lived on the island for ages and has become a part of the local scenery. Handsome, laid-back, gentlemanly, he'd be a great match for Leda — which may be why she seems so disinterested in him. She craves bad choices, and bad people.

The Lost Daughter isn't a murder mystery, but the pregnant tension in each scene suggests someone could be killed. Is there evil under the sun? Or maybe just compromised morality?

If the film feels European, it's because it's an adaptation of a novella by Elena Ferrante. But Gyllenhaal has sown aspects of herself into the film, giving it a deeply personal, intimate ambience.

Dagmara-dominczyk-lost-daughter-boycultureColman is Oscar-worthy (yes, again; always), and Buckley matches her note for note, so perfectly it's hard to remember these are two separate people playing one. Johnson gives a career-best performance, and Succession's Dagmara Domińczyk — as Nina's pregnant sister-in-law — brings a Hitchcockian duality to every scene in which she appears, so often saying “nice,” but projecting “mean.”

The Lost Daughter almost has it all — compelling characters, strange twists and turns, menace, deeply felt performances. So it seems a shame it craps out when it comes time to deliver a credible ending. But  as it has urged us to do all along, we must accept pesky flaws in pursuit of the greater good.

The Lost Daughter is in theaters December 17 and streaming on Netflix from December 31.