Lost Girls review – a film that is hard to recommend or disregard The Missing

2.5

Summary

Award-winning filmmaker Liz Garbus’s first scripted feature is a film that is hard to recommend or disregard. Lost Girls would have been better suited as a documentary film.

I wrote a special feature for the good people of Ready Steady Cut last fall celebrating the 20-year anniversary of The West Wing. I immediately recalled a quote from the series of utopian political bliss while watching Netflix’s Lost Girls, which was, The things we do to women.” In a world where a series like Criminal Minds (that ran strong numbers each week until its series finale last February) that dedicates each episode to a new and different way to torture females, even in a decade known as #MeToo, the aftermath films of searching for missing girls have been all too common.

Lost Girls is based on a true story of Mari Gilbert (Academy-Award nominee Amy Ryan), whose 24-year-old daughter, Shannon (Sarah Wisser), went missing in the Spring of 2010. After citing multiple issues with the detective running the case (Dean Winters, at his most weary) and confronting a police commissioner (In Treatment‘s Gabriel Byrne) who wants nothing more than to go home by five-o’clock, she starts her own private investigation. Along with her teenage daughter, Sherre (Leave No Trace’s Thomasin McKenzie), and the help for the families of other missing women in the same area on Ocean Parkway, New York, that ultimately leads the police to 10 unsolved murders of sex workers in the area they had no idea existed.

Lost Girls is based upon the book by Robert Kolker and was directed by Emmy and two-time Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?).  This is her first scripted feature. There have been very few directors with as much critical success in non-fiction films as she garnered, so this is a big step out of her comfort zone. While her film has a compelling setup and is solidly built, it’s really unspectacular and suffers from dryness that shows it’s coming from someone who has spent the better part of their professional career in the documentary film world due to its straightforward approach.

Amy Ryan is particularly strong here, and after her award-winning turn in Gone Baby Gone, this role is perfectly suited to her sensibilities. I hate to make the comparison, but you have to. It’s almost the same character as Helene McCready; except for this time, the role as a determined spit-fire with the tenacity not to give up hope of her daughter being alive. McKenzie’s role is wasted here, especially when you see the end credits that are ignored in the film of another family tragedy. She has her bright spots, with usual stoic glow where her eyes tell you all you need to know, but it’s the scene where she confronts the mother about past sins and lies that gives the role some much-needed life.

The script by Michael Werwie (Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile) is solid, no-nonsense, but offers nothing but cliches of the composite characters involved in the investigation; which, honestly, is fine, based on the real-life facts of the department bringing new meaning to everything is a business. You do wish the talented actors involved had a little more dimensional bones to chew on. Then there is the strange addition of The Hunt’s Reed Biney’s take on a suspect in the case that is so arrogantly over-the-top you have trouble believing the color added to it.

Lost Girls is a hard film to recommend or disregard. It really would have been better suited as a factual non-fiction film, but you understand the need for Garbus to break out. The story deserves to be told and if anything is seen through the eyes of a determined mother, not the incompetent police department that fumbled the case repeatedly. Based on the compelling nature of the narrative, and the performance by Ryan, this is one of Netflix’s better efforts— even if this is throwing them a bone since they bought it at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It’s just not good enough to give it a full-fledged recommendation.

The things we do to women.


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M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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