The Lost Daughter: Solo Trip, by David Bax
Fans of Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel The Lost Daughter might be disappointed to learn that there are no Italians in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s new film adaptation. But there are Brits, Greeks and at least one Irishman (plus a couple of Americans) and the action has been transplanted to sunny Greece. Plus, to really emphasize that Euro feel, the aspect ratio is 1.66:1.
The Lost Daughter is not a comedy (though, luckily, Olivia Colman’s comedic talents refuse to stay out of sight). But it does have a compelling fish-out-of-water feeling. Colman’s Leda is a professor of literature on a solo vacation where she plans to split her time between lounging and getting work done. But the other vacationers inhabiting her little slice of paradise are a large, boisterous, crass and uncultured family. Scene to scene, tension sprouts from the inability of Leda the prissy intellectual to coexist with the common folk, culminating in her freaking out at a groups of boys who won’t shut up in a movie theater, a scene that might make The Lost Daughter‘s likely audience feel uncomfortably exposed.
Leda is definitely more comfortable on her own. She shrugs off the offer of company from her apartment’s charming caretaker (Ed Harris). And, in one of her few moments of freedom, she sings along with the Talking Heads’ “People Like Us” while driving alone in her rental car.
Colman’s success with the character–and Gyllenhaal’s too–lies in humanism. There’s something refreshing, exciting and endlessly engaging about The Lost Daughter‘s ability to make us care so much about a person who’s donned prickly, spiked armor to keep everyone else away.
Once we start to get flashbacks to Leda’s years as a young mother to two girls (Leda is played by Jessie Buckley in these scenes), we begin to understand that, like most misanthropes, the person she hates most is herself. Her isolation from others is part of an ongoing course of self-punishment in which she is as much judge as prison warden. The Lost Daughter cracks open a person who, by the accepted standard, has been a “bad” mother and a “bad” wife and tries to find the thing in all of us that limits our ability to forgive.
Leda’s eventual entanglement in the other vacationers’ drama stems from an impulse that is as perplexing as it is ill-advised. But the superficial lesson learned from her actions mirrors the deeper one The Lost Daughter offers to its viewers. Sometimes you’re better off just minding your own business.