Featuring a fearless star performance from Amy Ryan, documentary veteran Liz Garbus’ first dramatic feature, Lost Girls, is a wrenching story about a mother’s search for truth — and justice. It’s based on the real-life story of Mari Gilbert, a New York woman whose dogged determination to find out what happened to her missing daughter led to the discovery of serial killings in Long Island.
Life is no picnic for Mari (Ryan), the blue-collar single mom of three girls — Shannan, Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie), and Sarra (Oona Laurence) — who works hard but is barely getting by. (The real-life Mari Gilbert’s fourth daughter, Stevie, is omitted from the film.) Mari isn’t the warm, fuzzy type, but she cares about her daughters. At first Mari isn’t worried when she doesn’t hear from Shannan, who lives with her boyfriend and works as an escort, for a few days, but then she gets a mysterious phone call from someone who seems to live in a gated community on Long Island, and her suspicions are stirred.
Now in full Mama Bear mode, Mari goes to the cops (Dean Winters and Gabriel Byrne), only to be met with condescension and dismissal. But she persists, and they finally start looking into the matter; Shannan doesn’t turn up, but several bodies of murdered female sex workers do. As Mari continues her pursuit of the facts around Shannan’s disappearance, she finds herself — and her other daughters — drawn into the community of the murder victims’ family members. All are seeking answers, as well as closure.
Ryan has a reputation for committing fully to her roles, and her work here is no exception. Her Mari is fierce and relentless; she can’t rest until she knows what happened to Shannan — even if that means overlooking what’s going on with her other daughters, who also need her. McKenzie (so good in Leave No Trace) is also compelling as Sherre, the “good girl” who longs for Marie’s affection and acknowledgement. Garbus has never been one to pull punches, and that serves Lost Girls well. It’s not a feel-good film, but it is one that will definitely make you feel.– Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Leslie Combemale What makes Lost Girls stand out is the stellar performances by the actors playing characters based on real-life people who were dealing day-to-day with real-life tragedies, and the often subtle choices Liz Garbus makes as a director creating a film firmly planted in the female gaze. Read full review.
Sheila Roberts Netflix’s Lost Girls is powerful storytelling and it’s an absolutely riveting film. Documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus’ first narrative feature is a compelling thriller based on the true story of Mari Gilbert’s crusade to find her missing daughter. Read full review.
Marina Antunes Director Liz Garbus is no stranger to difficult stories. With a decades-spanning career in documentaries, she has brought a lot of laughter and tears to the big and small screens. It’s not too surprising that her narrative film debut, Lost Girls, is a fictional account of a real-life tragedy. Read full review.
MaryAnn Johanson Lost Girls offers exactly the sort of twist on a familiar story I would expect from a filmmaker like Liz Garbus: championing the women too often overlooked. Where so many movies about dead and missing women — and there are *so many* — are about the cops or lawyers investigating the crimes to which they have fallen victim, and not about the women themselves, this one puts the focus where it belongs. Amy Ryan is terrific as the mother who has to push police to take her daughter’s disappearance seriously, and becomes a voice for all the women our society is all too happy to forget. Read full review.
Pam Grady: A frightened prostitute runs into dark night and seemingly disappears off the face of the earth, sending a frantic mother into a walking nightmare of official indifference in this tense, evocative drama, drawn from an actual case. Documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus makes her fiction feature debut with an engrossing, character-driven film. Read full review.
Nikki Baughan: Having honed her craft as a documentary filmmaker, Liz Garbus (Love, Marilyn; What Happened, Miss Simone?) brings a palpable sense of authenticity and intimacy to her feature debut. In telling the real life story of a (never caught) Long Island serial killer who targeted vulnerable sex workers, and the disinterested police officers who failed the victims, Garbus avoids any melodrama or soapboxing to focus on the horrific truths about issues class, crime and the abuse of power that shape modern America. Amy Ryan is excellent as blue collar mother Mari Gilbert, whose daughter Shannan – a prostitute – goes missing while visiting a client in a gated community after police fail to respond to her emergency call. Unable to rouse the interests of local police, Mari embarks on her own investigation but faces unhelpful, prejudiced attitudes at every turn. Evocatively lensed by cinematographer Igor Martinovic, who captures the claustrophobic, somber slog for justice, Lost Girls keeps the narrative trained on Mari and the other women who have lost someone close, so giving them the attention – and voice – that they were never afforded in life.
Susan Wloszczyna: The heart of Lost Girls is the connection forged by the survivors – the sorrowful sisters and guilt-ridden mothers who bond over the similar fates of their daughters. Amy Ryan is the hard-bitten engine driving this charge against simply shrugging off the disappearance of women, prostitutes or not. But the most soulful performance is given by Thomasin McKenzie as a daughter who supports her crusading mom even though her own needs are pushed aside. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin Documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus creates a strong sense of authenticity in her first fiction feature, a truth-based narrative that follows Mari Gilbert, a working class mother who insists that police untangle the mystery of what happened to her daughter, Shannan, a sex worker who disappeared after an appointment in a gated community on Long Island. Kudos to Ryan for her gutsy performance as Mari Gilbert, a real life crusader for justice.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Liz Garbus’ first narrative feature Lost Girls benefits from her documentarian’s eye: it’s based on a true story and offers ultra-realistic portrayals of working-class women fighting for the dignity of their missing (or dead) daughters, sisters, friends. Mari Gilbert (the terrific Amy Ryan) is a single mom who discovers her oldest daughter Shannan is missing after last being seen in a private Long Island beach community. No one is paying much attention, because Shannon’s just another “lost hooker.” Even after the authorities find the remains of three other missing sex workers nearby, Mari can’t get the police department to connect the dots or take her seriously. The movie also co-stars two of the best under-20 actresses around as Shannon’s grieving younger sisters: Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit, Leave No Trace) and Oona Laurence (Southpaw, The Beguiled). Like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri this is a film about ferocious mother who demands justice for her daughter’s life and recognition for her daughter’s humanity. A powerful and important drama.
Liz Whittemore This true-crime narrative boasts stunning performances from Amy Ryan and Thomasin McKenzie. Based on the real unsolved murder case of a group of sex workers, this film will infuriate and inspire. It touches upon class warfare, sexism, abuse, and family dynamics. Lost Girls shines a light on one mother’s unconditional love and takes the broken justice system to task. It is a heavy and tragic watch, but truly an important one.
Title: Lost Girls
Director: Liz Garbus
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Running Time: 95 minutes
Screenwriters: Robert Kolker, Michael Werwie
Principal Cast: Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Gabriel Byrne
Distribution Company: Netflix
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin