• Veronika Jel

REVIEW: ‘The Lost Daughter’ Gets So Honest It’s Uncomfortable

The Lost Daughter is Netflix’s last big movie of 2021. What a way to end the year! This intimate piece takes a close look at motherhood and its pitfalls.

Image: Netflix

A not so relaxing holiday

Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) is a 48-year-old comparative literature professor who has decided to spend her summer alone in Greece. She’s there to write, read, and enjoy herself.

Things get a bit complicated when she meets Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother of little Elena (Athena Martin). Leda becomes somewhat obsessed with Nina, seeing a lot of herself in her. Memories start coming to the surface. What was supposed to be a fun holiday slowly becomes a dark, introspective moment that Leda might not be ready for.

Unlikeable characters all around

Leda is an unusual character. She’s mean. Selfish. An unnatural mother. These are all her words, not mine. She actually describes herself this way. And she’s not entirely wrong on any of these.

Throughout the movie, Leda’s actions remain unpredictable. They’re also, for the most part, not something you’d approve of. Whether we’re dealing with her in the present, interacting with the likes of Nina, Will (Paul Mescal), and Lyle (Ed Harris); or whether we’re seeing Leda in the flashbacks (Jessie Buckley), one thing remains the same. Leda is simply not the most likable main character.

She’s not the only one, either. This movie is overflowing with unlikeable characters. Callie, Nina’s relative (Dagmara Domińczyk), is just perfect at delivering snide comments in the most aggressively sweet way. Nina’s husband, Toni (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), is barely there, but you hate him all the same. Even Lyle and Will, the two more likable characters, have their moments. No one gets off easy in this movie.

What The Lost Daughter does brilliantly, though, is that even if you disapprove of everyone’s actions, you understand them. The characters may be unlikeable, but they’re also real. They’re human. They make mistakes and go through challenges. You want to smack them and hug them at the same time.

Oscar-worthy picture

It’s hard to believe that this was Maggie Gyllenhaal’s feature directorial debut. It’s that good. The shots are deliberate, slow, and way too close to the actors for comfort. The dialogue feels almost too real sometimes. (Watching that one scene between Lyle and Leda when he won’t leave made me feel awkward. And I wasn’t even really there.)

There is a lot to love in The Lost Daughter. The directing, the cinematography, the screenplay, the music. The acting. Let’s not forget about the acting.

With so many big and renowned names, it’s no wonder that this movie works so well. Everyone is excellent here. The standouts are Jessie Buckley, Ed Harris, and, of course, the wonderfully expressive Olivia Colman.

I can just smell a couple of Oscar nominations coming.

Watch it or skip it?

The Lost Daughter isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s so heavily focused on motherhood and mother/daughter relationships that some may find it difficult to relate to. But if you’re patient and like your movies to explore the inner workings of their characters, then I’d seriously consider giving this one a go.

Rating: 4/5