[Gyllenhaal’s] chief successes are in making her adaptation of The Lost Daughter as intellectually engaging as the novel, whilst bringing the characters to life with performances beautifully appropriate for cinema––one thing an author doesn’t have in his or her arsenal, is summoning a camera “close-up,” with an actor creating that particular emotional transparency in tandem.
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The reclusive Italian author’s familiar themes of female relationships, sexuality, motherhood and women’s struggle to carve a professional space outside it are beautifully served in this uncompromising character study, illuminated by performances of jagged brilliance from Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley as her younger self.
Gyllenhaal’s film is a story of self-ascribed transgression and of shame buried and turned bitterly inward, and it too, is made with such alertness to the power of cinematic language – particularly that of performance – that even as you feel your stomach slowly drop at the implications of what you’re watching, you cannot break its spreading sinister spell.
Through it all, Gyllenhaal assumes an unfussy, practically invisible non-style that conveys the essential (like that missing doll, visible in the background of a key scene) while privileging the performances.
Written and directed by the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, it’s a worthy adaptation – murkily funny, shiveringly intimate drama of the deranging impossibility of the “good mother” figure, with a trio of outstanding performances from Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson.
To call The Lost Daughter an assured debut is to do it a slight disservice—assurance suggests that a filmmaker knows everything going in. What we see in The Lost Daughter is something greater: the act of discovery—of the gifts actors can bring to a story, of how to hold a complex narrative together—in progress.
The Lost Daughter leaves you haunted, shaken, and crushingly scarred like only the best of films are capable of doing.
Ultimately what makes this an unusually rewarding picture about motherhood is the fact that it shatters the binary distinction between the good mother and the bad one.
I’m not convinced, on balance, that Gyllenhaal’s delicious drama is finally much more than a storm in a teacup. But what a cup, what a storm. When Hurricane Colman blows in from the sea, be sure your roof’s in good shape and that all the windows are fastened.
The Lost Daughter is a masterwork in perception and all that society places upon mothers and motherhood.