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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
New Look at 'Women's Pictures'
by James Colt Harrison

The Lost Daughter is an homage to what used to be called “a woman’s picture” during the Golden Age of Hollywood. These films were usually directed by George Cukor at MGM for deities such as Katharine Hepburn or Joan Crawford. They were slick and designed to wrench the hearts of ladies who related to the strife seen on screen. The directing reins have been taken over by a woman herself in the talented hands of Maggie Gyllenhaal, herself also a fine actress. This is her directing debut, and she has chosen to bring forth to the screen the writing of Elena Ferrante, a best-selling novelist whose stories have swept the reading public around the world.

Olivia Colman is one of the finest actresses of this century and has a garage filled with Oscars®, Emmys, British awards and trophies allegedly from outer space. She has been nominated 99 times for various awards and has won 57 of them! She is a marvel and has captured the hearts of movie and television fans who have been captivated by her performances in “The Crown” (2019-2020) -- the wildly popular TV series-- or in films such as The Favourite (2018) and The Father (2020), and will be featured in 2023 in the musical Wonka with heart throb Timothee Chalamet.

 Ms. Colman plays a woman of a certain age (47), who has gone on vacation at a famous Greek Island resort. I think in the book she goes to Italy, but there is some confusion as the island is obvious Greek, but references are made to Italians and some characters speak Italian. Did I miss something?

She plays Leda, a woman who wants a quiet rest and has brought some work with her to do while lounging on the beach. Her solitude is shattered when a large family brings all their squealing kids to play in the sand. She meets Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk), a bit long-in-the-tooth at 45 pregnant American from Queens, who vacations on the island every year with her family. But Leda’s interest falls on Callie’s sister-in-law Nina, played by a staggeringly beautiful Dakota Johnson, and her little girl Elena. It sparks memories of Leda’s own youth when she was raising two daughters of her own.

Scenes depicting Leda’s child bearing years are flashbacks which feature the exceptional actress Jessie Buckley as the young Leda. Although they bear no physical resemblance, and at times it is confusing to relate the two personalities, one realizes it doesn’t make too much difference once you understand what director Gyllenhaal has constructed. Buckley is marvelous as the harried young Leda trying to cope with motherhood.

Back to the present, Leda is semi-courted by the wonderful Ed Harris as Lyle, a caretaker of her hotel complex. He’s a divorcee, age 71, who makes a play for Leda, but she’s not interested. She does meet the engaging Will, the pool boy, played by 25 year-old Irish actor Paul Mescal, and has a hilarious time with him at dinner. But he’s interested in younger girls.

The vacation awakens Leda’s memories of why she left her family during her child-raising years, whether she felt guilty, or why she felt relief to be rid of her motherly obligations. The film examines why some women do what Leda did and how she can cope with the feelings of guilt and “freedom” at the same time for leaving her family.

This is a new look at “women’s pictures” done up in a 21st Century way, with Gyllenhaal making an auspicious writing- directing debut. More women than men will understand Colman’s depiction of Leda.

(Released by Netflix and rated “R” for sexual content/nudity and language.)

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