The Lost Daughter is a nonconforming film with a structure that’s generally been reserved from male leads. Olivia Colman, one of the true great thespians of our time, tackles this role that paints her as an entirely unsympathetic figure, grappling with choosing freedom over responsibility. It’s the renegade father archetype depicted by a regretful yet honest woman that makes The Lost Daughter interesting. However, in attempting to unearth her character’s wounds, the script globs onto other characters’ lives and tells a less interesting plot, as opposed to the real story of Colman’s character.
For all the things Maggie Gyllenhaal does right in the direction, the subplot of Dakota Johnson and her large family dynamic sabotages the deeper character moments. Truthfully, the best scenes are almost exclusively in flashbacks with Jessie Buckley. Although Colman gives a towering internalized performance, the filmmaking wanes in those moments, making Colman carry with her physicality and subversion. It’s not that she doesn’t nail each moment and emotion, but that the filmmaking has no push to move her story anywhere forward. It ultimately comes down to the script and vision of the film being a little disjointed.
Nevertheless, the performance piece works out great because of the three strong female performances. Dakota Johnson can play troubled, but it’s how she layers in her snobbish behavior in the relatability through motherhood. Buckley, portraying a younger version of Olivia Colman, grabs all her screen time and goes. She’s a litany of emotions pent up at once and her performance when she releases that go to special places. And of course, Olivia Colman, who is so good at making us sense her emotion without having to say it explicitly. She’s wonderful but wouldn’t have this near the top of my list of best Colman performances.
If the first act didn’t need ample time to establish character dynamics, maybe this film gets going better. But as it stands, it takes far too long to get into the juice of the script and relies too heavily on the performances to build tone and atmosphere. I was engaged in the characters but found it hard to engage with the plot. It feels like there was a better way to tell her story without the extravagant Greek family to project onto. Gyllenhaal is onto something great, hope she continues to sit in the directors’ chair.