THE LOST DAUGHTER – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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There is a reason why British actress Olivia Colman, at the age of 47, is hitting her prime right now. Ever since she won an Best Actress Oscar for her role as England’s forlornly ditzy and rabbit-adoring Queen Anne in The Favourite, she’s become an English version of Meryl Streep. There seems to be nothing she can’t do. Whether it’s her unusual role as the daughter of a dementia sufferer played by the esteemed Anthony Hopkins in last year’s The Father, which led to a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod or her spot-on Emmy-winning portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II on TV’s The Crown. Then there is her horridly demeaning godmother and eventual stepmother of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character on Fleabag, which earned Colman a supporting spot on the 2019 Emmy ballot.

All of this shows how smart and cagy actress Maggie Gyllenhaal was to recruit Colman as her star attraction in her directorial and screenplay debut, The Lost Daughter, based on Elena Ferrante’s novel that digs deep into the joy, guilt, agony and pain of motherhood. At this moment, there are few leading lady besides Colman who knows how to act spiteful, vengeful and self-centered on screen while still allowing audiences to sympathize with her.

At the center of the complicated story that unfolds on a Grecian island, is Colman’s Leda, a 48-year-old British academic taking a working holiday, as she calls it. She and the caretaker whose property she is renting (Ed Harris, who I have dubbed he sexiest bald-headed actor alive – sorry, Stanley Tucci) helps her with luggage filled with heavy books and shows a bit of interest in her. Initially, Leda – named for the poem WB Yeats poem Leda and the Swan – has the beach blissfully all to herself. But soon it is invaded with a large, noisy American clan. One of the celebrants asks Leda to move, which makes her defensive. But the 40-ish woman, Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk ), brings a piece of her birthday cake as a peace offering and discusses her own pregnancy. She seems eager to hear some motherly advice from Leda divulges that she has two daughters, 23 and 25, Suddenly, she blurts out that “children are a crushing responsibility.” That is pretty much the theme of the film.

We then get to see Leda as a young struggling mother, a role neatly inhabited by Jessie Buckley, at the time when she is building a reputation as an admired academic in the field of Italian literature. Her husband doesn’t seem to do much parenting. In fact, he takes little notice that she is unraveling right in front of him over the pressure of two high-strung toddlers who often test her patience and more. When Leda gets to go to present her work at a symposium, she allows herself to succumb to the advances of a fellow academic (Peter Sarsgaard aka Gyllenhall’s husband and the father of her two daughters).

In real time, we witness Leda eyeing Nina (a chilly Dakota Johnson), Callie’s sister-in-law and the mother of a rambunctious young daughter named Elena. One of the most memorable images in the film is when the young girl cruelly bites and chews the face of Nani, her beloved baby doll. That toy will be the key to how we end up seeing the elder Leda while she eventually gets her comeuppance. Gyllenhaal keeps us on edge right until the end. But her true gift is in the way she trusts her actors and allowing Colman and Buckley’s performances perfectly echo each other.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.