It may sound cliché, but Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut — “The Lost Daughter” — feels like it is coming from the hands of an experienced filmmaker, and not someone making their first feature, especially during a pandemic. Perhaps that sounds like a no-brainer, with a cast stacked so high with the likes of Olivia Coleman, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, and Ed Harris, but while it occasionally stumbles, “The Lost Daughter” is the start of a very promising directorial career for Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Olivia Coleman plays Leda, a professor on holiday who gets entwined into a shady family including Nina (Johnson) and her daughter. Olivia Coleman is the vehicle that you see the film through, and her very layered performance could even get her in the awards conversation for the second straight year. Leda is an onion; whose layers are slowly peeled off as she watches Nina and her daughter and begins having flashbacks, even beginning to fall over when asked about her daughters.
A lot of the film is left ambiguous; in the beginning, we don’t know if Leda’s daughters are alive or not. She is very closed off, but cannot help but have flashbacks to eerily similar situations to her own past. Jessie Buckley plays a younger version of Leda and was the best choice for the role. They may not be mirror images of each other, but Buckley picks up the mannerisms and dialect that made it convincing, especially in the moments where Leda is torn. They both display tragedy in such a humane and relatable way.
While the ambiguity that the film has makes for an intriguing mystery that unfolds, it also is where “The Lost Daughter” gets into its own way. The final 10 minutes go from 0 to 100 in an easily avoidable situation and throws away an otherwise very patient and calculated 110 minutes. It is just a bit jarring and unfortunate for what is otherwise a really great film. Maggie Gyllenhaal will continue to be a name on the rise as a director, and I very much look forward to what comes next for her. It isn’t shocking that this won Best Screenplay at Venice just weeks ago. Meanwhile, Olivia Coleman turns in another great performance, and it would not be all that shocking if her name is being thrown around for awards for the second straight year.
“The Lost Daughter” will have a limited release in the United States beginning December 17, before hitting Netflix on December 31.