'The Lost Daughter' Offers a Rare Perspective on Motherhood

Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal

Starring Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Dagmara Domińczyk

BY Marriska FernandesPublished Jan 5, 2022

Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut is a raw and compelling take on the hardships and "crushing responsibility" of motherhood — a perspective that's rarely shown in such bold strokes.

Based on the book by Italian author Elena Ferrante, the film follows Leda (Olivia Colman), a British academic on holiday in a quiet Greek island. She enjoys people-watching and, one day observes a rowdy family from Queens who arrive on the beach, disturbing her quiet time with their loud conversations as they set up tables and food and chairs. Leda tells one of the pregnant mothers — who was perhaps looking for words of comfort from another mother — "Children are a crushing responsibility."

It is then that Leda notices Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother who tries to keep her little daughter occupied on the beach. Watching this young mother brings back old memories from when Leda herself was a new mother (played by Jessie Buckley), as she struggled with her academic ambitions while struggling with the responsibly of raising two young kids.

The film jumps back and forth between Leda's past and present. Clearly, Leda is haunted by her past, and as she strikes up a friendship with Nina, more secrets come to the surface.

Gyllenhaal not only directed this beautifully haunting film, but she also wrote the screenplay, and the complexities of the characters are not lost in translation as she brings this book to life. The Lost Daughter is not an easy piece of literature to explore faithfully because the book takes place mostly in Leda's head, but Gyllenhaal delivers by letting her lead actors drive the complex nuances demanded by their characters. It's an acting showcase for her ensemble cast that lets the women shine.

Olivia Colman in particular delivers an incredible performance. She's always equipped with a well of emotions that dance across her face, sometimes without any words. She's funny and mischievous in some scenes, while delivering heart-wrenching moments when exploring her inner demons in others. If there's anyone who can dive into complex, tricky material with aplomb, it's Colman. Her work in this film is certainly deserving of award nominations.

For her part, Jessie Buckley is just as fierce, mirroring the young Leda as a thriving and ambitious woman fighting off the weight of motherhood. She holds her own as she constructs the image of what Colman's younger self was like.

The Lost Daughter is a bold, beautiful and complex piece that leaves audiences with more questions than answers. It dares to question, but never judge, the value of motherhood for a character who finds that parenting doesn't come naturally, especially in the face of career ambitions, and that makes it a thought-provoking film.

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