Review: ‘The Lost Daughter’ has three stellar performances in a drama about motherhood

Parenthood is both rewarding and demanding. It’s the most challenging and awesome responsibility you can take on as a person. This is not lost on any of the characters in The Lost Daughter.

Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) is an academic on a solo holiday in Greece. She has a lovely rented apartment right on an idyllic beach and all the peace and quiet she can handle, right up until a loud Italian American family shows up and all but take over the place. While Leda hangs back and observes them, she takes a particular interest in Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother whose partner is emotionally distant and whose daughter is clingy and needy.

One day on the beach, the daughter goes missing, and Leda is hailed as the family’s hero after she’s the one who tracks the girl down. She is showered with praise and attempts at friendship, and for no reason, she then steals the little girl’s favourite doll.

The rest of the movie is told in two timelines frames: the super tense and awkward present where Leda is harbouring this doll and having flashbacks to the super tense and awkward past where, as a young mother played by Jessie Buckley, she finds herself nearly entirely uninterested in being a mother two her two young daughters.


Without saying any more, it’s safe to say that the film goes to a few places that you won’t expect (and a few that you will), but it is entirely worth the price of admission simply for the performances by Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, and Dakota Johnson.

Johnson has the least to do of the three of them, but she makes a meal of each of her scenes. She is all at once sultry and trashy, demure and passionate, kind and malevolent. You can tell she is both trapped by and enraptured by the power of her husband and his family. It’s never precisely confirmed what they do for a living, and that ambiguity gives the narrative and the characters a certain power that they wouldn’t otherwise have if we knew the details. It’s a great storytelling move and one of my favourite details of the film.

Colman and Buckley are both excellent, though, playing the same character at different ages. Their performances are both nuanced and exciting, and they are so convincing as the same character you’d swear they were related in real life. Leda as a character is complicated and not really likeable, but their joint performance makes her compelling.

This is the feature film debut for Maggie Gyllenhaal as a director, and she has, as they say, the goods. She knows exactly when to linger and when to cut away, and when it comes to the interspersing of the timelines, it is accomplished in such a way as to provide maximum emotional punch.

The Lost Daugther is at times challenging to watch, but between the central performances and confident direction, it is definitely one you should seek out. You get three solid performances as well as a first look at a director whose next project I now eagerly await.

Rating: 3/5

The Lost Daughter will be in limited theatrical release starting from December 17th and premieres worldwide on Netflix on December 31st.


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