Written by: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Starring: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Domińczyk
The pressures that come with motherhood can get the best of anyone as it comes with a crushing responsibility to care for and raise another human being. Honest portrayals of these journeys tend to still highlight the mother coming around to doing the right thing but barely does it get as harrowing as the perspective displayed in The Lost Daughter. It truly goes to show that biological capabilities do not always equal emotional capacity.
In her attempt to enjoy a vacation, Leda (Olivia Colman) gets her bliss interrupted by a family barging in on the same location. This leads her to connect with a young mother, Nina (Dakota Johnson), and then think back on her own past as a mother to her two daughters and how she despised aspects of it wholeheartedly.
Nothing quite sums up the thesis and feel of this feature more than the line “children are a crushing responsibility.” A true statement but one joyful parents do not like to speak on because of the expectation of them to love their children unconditionally while providing every single need. This feature seeks to do away with this particular facade and focus on a woman unafraid to say what she means and speak to her honesty of having a hatred of her children for certain segments of her younger life. This happens in the form of flashbacks but also in the present as Leda plays out her motherly regrets in real-time.
Leda certainly becomes a difficult character to connect to seeing as she embodies what society deems as a bad mother. As what gets revealed in her actions of the past, to say she would be looked down upon would be quite the understatement. Regardless of it all, what makes the portrayal so refreshing comes from the pure honesty of it. Leda has not carried the affection for her children that would typically be expected of her as a mother and the way it has carried on with her as she has progressed in life has certainly left a mark. This essentially breaks the film down into two parts: her disgruntled past filled with perceived selfish acts and her spiky personality with this large family ruining her vacation.
Even with Leda not representing the best person in the world, she has so many relatable sequences during her Greek vacation. One particular scene has stayed etched into my brain as she tries to watch a movie and a rambunctious group of teenagers come in to make such a dreadful commotion. Something that would anger anyone but considering Leda’s already disgruntled look at youngsters, it hits even harder. Then you have the initial scene where she enjoys the absolute bliss of her vacation only for it to be ruined with more rambunctious teenagers. This film essentially becomes the “fuck them kids” story and the narrative really makes a case for it when looking at the past.
Portrayals of motherhood in film show the difficult side but none show it more than this feature in how a sense of resentment can build. This gets seen through a young Leda portrayed by the sensational Jessie Buckley. It shows the buckling pressure put on her to produce professionally and as a mother without the support of her husband on many occasions. Tack on the behavior of her young daughters, which could be described as typical and you have someone who absolutely hates the constraints bearing children put on her. The film manages to strike a good balance in almost justifying what Leda eventually does while also showing the negative ramifications it has caused in her relationships. As shown through her connection with a certain doll, a specific level of selfishness begins to brew within her that she feels is owed to her after what she has chosen. Quite the tricky balance to pull off but it succeeds because of the direction on display by Maggie Gyllenhaal but specifically the performances by young and current Leda by Buckley and Olivia Colman respectively.
Speaking on the greatness of Olivia Colman really feels like overkill at this point but this woman seriously cannot do any wrong. She takes on this complex character and makes her incredibly human, even with the warts she presents, and serves as a tremendous complement to what Buckley does with the younger version. They both capture the anguish of this character, but more importantly the vitriolic anger harbored for what children have done to her life. They bring humanity to her making it difficult to fully dislike her despite her actions pushing against societal norms of motherhood. They carry the perceived selfishness so well.
Definitely not the easiest watch but certainly a narrative working with a level of honesty opening up some incredible dialogue. How selfish is a mother allowed to be and can she be opened back up with open arms? It all gets incredibly messy and this personalized journey makes for quite the through-provoking watch. Indeed a strong directorial debut for Maggie Gyllenhaal and yet another example of Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley demonstrating their endless talent.