✰✰✰✰ (out of five)
Synopsis: A college professor (Olivia Colman) confronts her unsettling past after meeting a woman (Dakota Johnson) and her young daughter while on vacation in Italy. Her obsession with the woman and her daughter prompts memories of her early motherhood.
Review: "The Lost Daughter" is a film I like a lot, but not love. After all, how can you love a film centered around a woman isn't that likeable? But I can tell you what makes the film intriguing and keeps your attention on this woman: Olivia Colman. The Oscar-winner is so bubbly and infectious with joy naturally that its keeps your attention on Leda, the holidaying professor whose past flashes in front of her eyes while observing a boisterous, large family take over (so to speak) the beach she looks to relax and focus on clear work. This family contains Nina (Johnson) and her young daughter Elena, whom Leda watches, observing almost the same struggle she had and we come to learn of through flashbacks peppered throughout. So, almost literally, her past is paraded in front of her, forcing her to reconcile her transgressions. As I said--she ends up not super likeable. Without going into details, Colman does want us to stick around, thanks in part to her natural gift as a happy person. Once that hook is placed, Colman gives a superb, nuanced performance. The initial introduction is one of awkwardness (Ed Harris makes small yet potent work as the caretaker of the boathouse Leda stays at on vacation). Giving this direction is another woman known for layered work: Maggie Gyllenhaal. The first-time writer/director is clearly focused on giving the lead a wide birth for interpretation and growth. This leaves things a little too loose for my liking and allows for uneven pacing, drawing the runtime out. Still, the structure is sound, and the peeling of each new characteristic we learn of Leda has you want to know what is next. In the flashbacks, Jessie Buckley is radiant as the young Leda. Leda is clearly defined by her daughters, no matter how different those two (unseen) adult individuals turn out to be. The formative years for children can also one for parents: their personalities and flaws simultaneously manifest to define their eventual grown selves. Buckley is splendidly spectacular and a perfect pairing against Colman, two sides to the same coin. Gyllenhaal certain got some great actors for her first work, and played right, her next one will only be even better than this satisfying debut.
The Lost Daughter release info:
Limited theatrical release starting Dec. 17, 2021
Streaming on Netflix on Dec. 31, 2021.