The Lost Daughter (2021) Review

By Marc Miller
Published: December 30, 2021 (Last updated: February 6, 2023)


The Lost Daughter is an absorbing and unsettling depiction of motherhood with standout performances from Olivia Coleman and Jesse Buckley.

Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, we review the Netflix film The Lost Daughter, which does not contain spoilers.

Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s directorial debut and adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter is a remarkably self-assured freshman effort from the veteran actress. The drama has a heightened psychological edge through much of its 121-minute run time. It’s a movie that, on the surface, you may not appreciate how each meticulous action has subtle meaning, while even offering a puzzle piece to the main character’s mysterious activities.

The Lost Daughter (2021) Review and Plot Summary

That character is Leda, played by two extraordinary actresses. Olivia Colman plays Leda as a middle-aged woman. A professor who is vacationing in the Greek Islands, Leda acts impulsively and even a bit selfishly. She has a realization she is a woman north of 40 who is eating ice cream while others are frolicking on the beach. She has her eyes set on a young waiter, Will (Paul Mescal), and rebuffs the advances of an older gentleman who takes care of the house she rents (played by Ed Harris). From there, Leda becomes obsessed with observing a young woman, Nina (Dakota Johnson), and her boisterous family.

She has died, jet black hair, some tattoos, and a young daughter, Elena, plays in the water. She is always clutching her doll, her most precious possession. This brings back memories of Leda as a young mother (played by Jessie Buckley). She and her husband, Joe (Spencer’s Jack Farthing), are young parents stuck in a small, hot apartment with two small daughters. Both are academics who are struggling to make their mark.

Gyllenhaal’s film begins to take off when Nina loses Elena, and Leda finds her playing in the water in a secluded part of the beach. She returns as a hero to that intimidating family. However, Elena has lost her beloved doll. Where did it go? Well, Leda, for some reason, snatched it and put it in her purse.  What happens next is a series of immature decisions that have followed Leda her entire life. Those actions have impacted her functioning, physically and mentally.

What makes Coleman’s (and Buckley, who is not getting the credit she deserves here) performance so thought-provoking is how her character acts in the identical immature and even selfish manner as a young mother. She is still working in the same fashion by placing her own feelings ahead of others. No, not the scene where she won’t move her chair so the family can have it. That can be understood and condoned. However, keeping a doll that belongs to the minor child as she repeatedly is told the girl has been distraught without showing a stunning lack of empathy or even sympathy. As the layers are pulled back and revealed, she reveals her astonishing amount of questionable choices.

Is the 2021 movie The Lost Daughter good?

Overall, The Lost Daughter works as a fascinating mystery, with Ms. Gyllenhaal building a pleasant amount of suspense. A valid criticism of the ending offers minimal resolution on a current predicament Leda found herself in, which is not a prerequisite for a film to be good. (See examples of such films like Prisoners, No Country for Old Men, etc.). The final product is an absorbing and even unsettling depiction of different stages of motherhood with two standout performances.

What did you think of the Netflix film The Lost Daughter? Comment below. 

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