The Lost Daughter is another film in a long line directed by an actor. This time it’s Maggie Gyllenhaal’s turn in the director’s chair. This film has a definitive style and feel to it like no other this year. It proves there are still new visions out in the ether that haven’t been uncovered until now.
Academy Award-winner Olivia Colman plays a professor who goes on vacation on an island off of the Italian coast. While she’s there sunbathing, she meets a woman (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter. These people bring back memories of the woman’s past of being a mother herself. The younger version of the woman is played by Jessie Buckley.
Gyllenhaal uses a lot of close-up shots to get shots of the various characters and the emotions on their faces and in their eyes. It’s like she’s trying to peer through them to reach the thoughts they are thinking. Unfortunately for me, this doesn’t work very well. It’s just a vision I can’t get behind. This style is pointless to me. Usually, a director’s style brings out a distinctive look and feel to their work, but in this case, it’s all wrong. The closeups don’t work at all. They just get in the way of an otherwise interesting story.
Gyllenhaal ensembles a stellar cast for her first directorial outing, no doubt calling in some favors. Ed Harris plays a handyman/overseer of the house Colman’s character is renting for the summer. He may have feelings for her. Buckley as the younger version of Colman’s character had a nice arc once she gets her chance to shine in the film. Peter Sarsgaard plays a love interest of hers, but she’s married with two adolescent daughters. Johnson’s character is just a woman who’s lost in her world and doesn’t know how to be a mother to her daughter. The supporting cast is fine in the film.
Gyllenhaal had adapted the book by Elena Ferrante in this film. Ferrante is a widely successful novelist. This film about motherhood in its various incarnations is okay at best. These two weaving storylines intersect but feel very incomplete without the other. Gyllenhaal as a mother herself probably felt a tie to the material. It’s not easy being a mother. I can attest to that because my mother struggled and so does my sister. You feel like your never doing enough and in my case mine didn’t do enough for her four children. She made things worse for us.
This film veers off occasionally to a subplot about a doll that just felt out of place in the film. It may have brought something as far as a nurturing aspect to the script or a wanting to be what she couldn’t be anymore who knows. I felt pulled away from the film every time the subplot went in that direction. The inevitable conclusion to that aspect of the film was very unsatisfying. The whole thing felt out of place.
The Lost Daughter has a couple of messages about motherhood that just got lost on me. I felt I didn’t have a tie to the material that a woman might have. Gyllenhaal is not trying to get me as part of the demographic she’s going for. It’s younger and older mothers and women in general. Colman does an admirable job as this woman going through a midlife crisis and Johnson is just lost in Colman’s shadow in the film. The look of the film past and present felt fine, but not great. The closeups were very unsettling. I wished Gyllenhaal would have done something different with the camera.
Dan Skip Allen
Founder/EIC disappointment media