Review: Olivia Colman shines in ‘The Lost Daughter’

As parents, we hope our grown children give us the benefit of the doubt as they look at their lives.

We savor when they travel with us through time to see where we were, personally, professionally, when we made choices that impacted how they embraced their worlds. And we wish, to quote a favorite expression, they will see glasses half full rather than half empty.

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s exquisite “The Lost Daughter” ponders these issues as a successful teacher and writer faces realities in her relationships that invade her summer holiday.

Leda seems to know who she is. As she walks to her rented vacation accommodations, each step demonstrates a determination to do exactly what she wants to nurture curiosity, inspire creativity or bring comfort as she continues to savor a life “all about me.” But chance encounters with other vacationers on a tranquil beach threaten to remind her of past moments she might wish to rewrite. And she learns a lesson that many parents face: years after something happens, we can be reminded of what it may mean to children.

More Information

Film Summary: The Lost Daughter

Content: High. Maggie Gyllenhaal makes a wondrous debut as a movie maker with her daring storytelling about a woman exploring her regrets.
Entertainment: High. As serious as the film's content, Gyllenhaal and her cast, headed by Olivia Colman, keep us at the edge of the seat.
Message: High. As the film navigates moments people may want to rewrite, it helps us see why confronting our truth can be so essential.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine what it takes to discover and reveal the authentic makes a visit to the movies worthwhile.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older children, talk about what it takes to revisit and reconsider what actually happens in our lives.

Such a journey into someone’s soul may not immediately sound like content for the visual experience that film demands. But writer/director Gyllenhaal – in her debut as a filmmaker – demonstrates such confidence in her material that she makes her journey through Leda’s mind and heart as thrilling as a roller coaster ride. As a creator, Gyllenhaal trusts the inherent power in the source material – the lovely novel by Elena Ferrante – and its subtle power to help an audience discover what the characters experience. As a filmmaker, the actress doesn't tell us what to watch on her screen. Instead, through the subtlety of words and images, she lets us discover what can be meaningful.

Of course, casting the right actors helps and, in Olivia Colman, the director finds the ideal artist to bring Leda to life. Yes, we may think we know Colman. She brought her sense of humor to an Oscar-winning performance in “The Favourite,” shines as Queen Elizabeth in “The Crown” and touched our hearts last year as a caregiver in “The Father.” But the roles she plays rarely give her the chance to explore negative intentions. In her approach to Leda, Colman bravely considers how this woman may address her selfishness with the worst of agendas, giving us the opportunity to see a different side of Colman the performer as well as the layer of Leda that words only suggest. The striking performance serves as a testament of Colman’s bravery as an actor and her ingenuity as a storyteller. She welcomes us to feel every moment someone experiences as she relives moments she might wish could remain in hidden corners of her heart.

Movies that take us inside people offer journeys as rich as any travelogue. With “The Lost Daughter,” Gyllenhaal and Colman remind us how unforgettable a film can be when it becomes as personal as someone’s diary.

“The Lost Daughter” runs 2 hours and 1 minute and is Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language. The film is in theaters and streaming on Netflix.