‘The Lost Daughter’ is an impressive debut from Maggie Gyllenhaal, a highly anxious and shockingly comedic thriller.
Our first look at Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter sees the star disheveled and stumbling down a beach to the shore. Bloodstains her blouse. She collapses. From there, we cut immediately to Colman singing along to the radio while driving along a beautiful coast. The tonal shift is massive, leading to some uncomfortable chuckles in the audience when I saw the film. As we will quickly learn, Maggie Gyllenhaal has chosen to live in this awkwardness, building some incredible tension but never losing a wicked sense of humor that leaves this debut feature and screenplay with a massive fingerprint.
Maggie Gyllenhaal has long been a favorite of the indie movie scene, but her talents might be even greater behind the camera. Adapting beloved novelist Elena Ferrante is a daunting task for even the most skilled filmmakers, and Gyllenhaal’s first screenplay is a tonal gem. It helps that she has assembled a cast of all-stars, but Gyllenhaal proves from her first movie that she is a director to watch.
The Lost Daughter finds a vacationing Leda (Olivia Colman, in the present-day scenes) going to the Greek seaside during her summer vacation from professorial work. She immediately catches the eye of a working-class housekeeper (a lovely Ed Harris) and a younger lifeguard at the beach (Paul Mescal). But her Edenic vacation is soon ruined by the arrival of a Greek-American family that brings chaos into paradise. An obnoxious pregnant woman (Succession’s Dagmara Dominczyk) and her emotionally distant sister-in-law, Nina (Dakota Johnson), are two of the most prominently featured. A traumatizing event for Nina and her young daughter triggers flashbacks for Leda, reminding her of an originally undisclosed tragedy she faced as a young mother (Jessie Buckley, in flashbacks).
The Lost Daughter occasionally feels like a murder mystery with no murder (and very little mystery). We follow Leda as she becomes more and more haunted by the family at her beach. A mutual obsession between Nina and Leda proves the talents of Johnson, leaning into the enigmatic beauty of the star. But what will probably surprise audiences is how utterly hysterical this film is. Colman gets to be funnier than American audiences will know her. A comedian by trade before her recent success in The Favourite or The Crown, Colman let’s loose in this film. She is variously sardonic and freewheeling. It’s a magnificent balance of talent from the actress, particularly effective when she devastates with some emotionally charged slaughter.
The combined efforts of the costuming (Edward K. Gibbons), production design (Inbal Weinberg) and cinematographer (Hélène Louvart) provide a style unique to The Lost Daughter. The sea-blue aesthetic is a gift for Gyllenhaal to paint with, and she makes the most of the environment and location to tell her story. But with such a clever mind, Gyllenhaal seems to be a director to watch.
If you can handle the anxiety of Uncut Gems or the dark humor or Big Little Lies, this is probably a movie for you. With an all-star cast and a wicked wit, you’ll find something to love in The Lost Daughter.