Movie Review: With capable hands around every corner, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter” is one of 2021’s finest directorial debuts and a swallowing vision of motherhood.
Admittedly, it’s probably not best to start my first real, long-winded review of a film without a capstone starting point. Who do you recognize first in a film like “The Lost Daughter,” – is it Maggie Gyllenhaal for crafting one of the sharpest and honed in directorial debuts I’ve seen in quite a few years? Is it Olivia Colman for delivering a sure-fire Oscar nominated performance that I truly think might deserve to win? Or is it Jessie Buckley, who has one of the toughest portrayals for a character-set-in-a-flashback in years?
I think the best way to start may be in trying to contextualize it within the films we got in 2021. The clear comparison that I drew starting at about the mid-first section of this film was “The Power of the Dog” (dir. Jane Campion). Both included absolutely breathtaking cinematography that helped frame our main characters as isolated individuals caught up in the lives of others. Where the themes in “The Power of the Dog” included masculinity and isolation, “The Lost Daughter” found its groove in parenting and self-reflection. Leda isn’t a great parent, and we understand that from the start – but we also see the growth and change as to how she got to where she is in that moment.
And here is where we have the discussion. How many directorial debuts have had this level of care and understanding? In 2021, all I could come up with is Stephen Karam (director of “The Humans“) and Michael Sarnofski (director of “Pig“). While I may like “The Humans” and “Pig” a little bit more, albeit probably because they were a bit more visceral, I didn’t feel like either of them were quite as conceptual or articulating as “The Lost Daughter.” I was completely knocked out by this film for the first 45 minutes and the last 45 minutes.
If I were to offer up any complaints for “The Lost Daughter,” I think it would be for the middle portion of the film. I loved Jessie Buckley’s portrayal of a young Leda. I wish that production would’ve let loose the cuffs on her a bit more. She killed every scene, and I think a more central part of the film from beginning to end would’ve really brought this one home.
Overall, I’m really glad that “The Lost Daughter” was one of the final films I saw in 2021. It’s one of my favorites of the year because I think it lends itself to quite a few rewatches. Olivia Colman is just THAT good in it. Is it a bit insular? Sure, but it has just the right amount of style and precision that I love. I hope Maggie Gyllenhaal can continue to crank out films like this if she plans on continuing to direct.
“The Lost Daughter” is now available to stream on Netflix!