Review: ‘The Lost Daughter,’ starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley

December 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dakota Johnson and Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix) 

“The Lost Daughter” (2021)

Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal

Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece, England and Italy, the dramatic film “The Lost Daughter” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A British woman, who works as a comparative Italian literature professor, goes on vacation in Greece, where she has flashbacks of her troubled background as a young mother, after she encounters a young mother from a boisterous Italian American family who are staying in the same vacation villa spot. 

Culture Audience: “The Lost Daughter” will appeal primarily to fans of star Olivia Colman and expertly acted psychological dramas.

Jessie Buckley (center) in “The Lost Daughter” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix) 

“The Lost Daughter” upends the stereotype that mothers depicted in movies are supposed to think that parenthood is the greatest thing that ever happened to them. Much of the discontent in the movie has to do with doubts and insecurities that mothers have when they find out that motherhood doesn’t make them as happy as they were taught to believe it would. The movie might start off looking like a mystery thriller, but it’s really a psychological drama that takes viewers inside the restless and uneasy mind of woman during a tension-filled vacation and how she affects other people around her. Olivia Colman anchors the movie with a memorable and intriguing performance.

“The Lost Daughter” is the feature-film directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal, who wrote the adapted screenplay, which is based on Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation of the book, but the movie changes the nationalities of the main characters and the coastal vacation setting from Italy to Greece. “The Lost Daughter” benefits from cinematic elements (such as production design and music) that very much enhance the mood and emotions conveyed in the story. Just like in the book, the movie centers on a vacation that is fraught with some psychological torment and guilt over motherhood issues.

In “The Lost Daughter,” Colman portrays Leda Caruso, a 48-year-old university professor of comparative Italian literature. Leda is originally from England: She grew up in Leeds and currently lives in Cambridge. Leda is on vacation in Greece, where she is renting a villa during this trip. (In “The Lost Daughter” book, Leda is an Italian native who is a university professor of English and vacationing in Italy.)

Leda is divorced with two adult daughters: 25-year-old Bianca and 23-year-old Martha, who are not seen in the movie but whose voices can be heard when they talk to Leda on the phone. Ellie James is the voice of the adult Bianca, while Isabelle Della-Porta is the voice of the adult Martha. At different points in the movie, Leda has flashbacks to when her daughters were underage children. In these flashbacks, Jessie Buckley plays young Leda, Robyn Elwell plays Bianca at approximately 7 or 8 years old, and Ellie Mae Blake plays Martha at about 5 or 6 years old.

Leda is looking forward to spending some quiet and relaxing time alone on this vacation. Two of the first people she meets are Lyle (played by Ed Harris), the middle-aged caretaker of the villa where’s staying, and Will (played by Paul Mescal), an Irish college business student who works at the resort during the summer as a lifeguard and general handyman. Lyle and Will are both friendly and accommodating. Lyle mentions that he’s been the villa’s caretaker for the past 30 years.

Leda’s plans for a tranquil holiday become disrupted when her vacation becomes anything but quiet and relaxing. Not long after Leda finds a space on a beach to settle down and get some sun, a large and very loud Italian American family shows up and interrupts Leda’s peace and quiet. There are about 12 to 15 people in this group of raucous newcomers.

Two of them are a married couple named Callie (played by Dagmara Dominczyk) and Vassili (played by Panos Koronis), who ask Leda to move out of her spot on the beach to make room for some people in the group. Leda firmly says no. In response, a young man in the group calls Leda a derogatory and sexist name that rhymes with “punt.” Callie and Vassili walk away, visibly annoyed with Leda.

Needless to say, Leda and this family do not make a good impression on each other. From where Leda sits on the beach, she observes this family. Leda notices a strikingly good-looking couple who’s part of the group: They are Callie’s younger sister Nina (played by Dakota Johnson) and Nina’s husband Toni (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who seem to have a passionate marriage, based on their public displays of affection. Nina and Toni have a daughter with them named Elena (played by Athena Martin Anderson), who’s about 5 years old.

Shortly after the awkward encounter with Leda, Callie approaches Leda again on the beach. This time, it’s to make an apology for the family being so rude. Callie brings a piece of cake as a peace offering, and she asks Leda about herself. Leda doesn’t really seem interested in making friends with anyone on this trip, but she reluctantly answers the questions, such as where she’s from and what she does for a living.

During this conversation, Callie is talkative and friendly. Callie says her family is from New York City, but they have other family members who’ve lived in this part of Greece for “300 years.” She mentions that she’s 42 years old and seven months pregnant with her first child, which the family already knows will be a girl. This talk abut motherhood makes Leda visibly uncomfortable. Leda comments to Callie: “Children are a crushing responsibility.”

During her observation of this family on the beach, Leda notices that Elena shows a strong attachment to a girl doll that Elena carries around. Elena also shows signs of possibly disturbed behavior because she bites the doll in an unusually aggressive manner. The doll and what happens next to Elena end up being the catalyst for most of what triggers Leda’s memories and actions during this trip.

While the family’s adults are partying on the beach, Elena suddenly goes missing. A frantic search ensues that takes a few hours, but Leda ends up finding Elena by herself in a wooded area near the beach. When Leda brings Elena back to her family, Leda is treated like a hero. But deep inside, Leda doesn’t feel like a hero.

That’s because Elena’s disappearance reignites a painful memory of when Leda’s elder daughter Bianca went missing on a beach when Bianca was about the same age as Elena. This memory and other things that happened in Leda’s past are presented as flashbacks in the movie. And that’s when it’s revealed that Leda didn’t really enjoy being a mother very much.

Slowly but surely, viewers find out how Leda was as a mother to two young children; what led to the demise of Leda’s marriage to her husband Joe (played by Jack Farthing); and what happened when a young Leda was accepted into grad school at a university in Italy. Gyllenhaal’s real-life husband Peter Sarsgaard has a supporting role as Professor Hardy, a charismatic professor of an Italian literature class that Leda took when she was in grad school.

Colman gives a compelling performance as Leda, who seems brittle on the outside but has emotional vulnerabilities on the inside. Elena’s doll and what happens to it are symbolic of clinging to youthful memories. As Leda’s memories from the past come flooding back, she also becomes increasingly caught up in what’s going in Nina’s life and the distress that’s caused when Elena’s doll goes missing.

At one point, Will warns Leda that Nina and her family are “bad people.” How dangerous are they? Leda finds out at least one big secret about Nina, who remains somewhat of a mystery throughout the entire movie. Buckley’s portrayal of a young Leda gives a necessary emotional depth to the older Leda, who wants to keep her inner turmoil hidden from the world.

“The Lost Daughter” is best enjoyed by audiences if people know from the beginning that this isn’t a movie filled with big action scenes or with any obvious villains. It’s a searing portrait of how one woman reflects on how she handled motherhood and how her personal encounters with another mother often feels like an eerie and upsetting reminder of the past. The title of the movie refers to a child who goes missing in two separate parts of the story, but the overall emotional arc is how a woman finds parts of herself that she wants to lose or forget.

Netflix released “The Lost Daughter” in select U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021. The movie premieres on Netflix on December 31, 2021.

Review: ‘The Invisible Man’ (2020), starring Elisabeth Moss

February 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Elisabeth Moss in “The Invisible Man” (Photo by Mark Rogers/Universal Pictures)

“The Invisible Man” (2020)

Directed by Leigh Whannell

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, this reimagination of the 1933 horror classic “The Invisible Man” is a modern, female-oriented revamp, with a cast of white and African American characters who mostly represent the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who escapes from an abusive boyfriend must convince people around her that he faked his suicide, found a way to become invisible, and is now out to get his revenge on her.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal to horror fans who are looking for a well-acted suspenseful film that has an underlying but not preachy message about social issues, such as stalking and domestic abuse.

Aldis Hodge, Elisabeth Moss and Storm Reid in “The Invisible Man” (Photo by Mark Rogers/Universal Pictures)

It might seem hard to believe, but there’s a horror-movie remake that actually isn’t an embarrassment to the original film. The 2020 version of “The Invisible Man” takes the original 1993 “The Invisible Man” movie (which was based on the H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel) and makes it an almost entirely different film by telling the story from the perspective of the Invisible Man’s girlfriend.

The 1933 version of “The Invisible Man” was about a mad scientist in England named Dr. Jack Griffin (played by Claude Rains), who discovers a drug that makes him become invisible, and he goes on a killing spree in a sinister plot to take over the world. In the 2020 version of “The Invisible Man,” the title character is Adrian Griffin (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a high-tech millionaire whose specialty is in optics. And for most of the movie, viewers don’t know much about him because his girlfriend Cecilia Kass (played by Elisabeth Moss) is front and center of the story.

At the beginning of the film, Cecilia is shown sneaking out of the bed she shares with Adrian at his oceanside mansion, which has an elaborate video surveillance system in place. The house also has a section that looks like a high-tech lab, with computers and mysterious body suits. Based on what’s shown in the next suspenseful 10 minutes, Cecilia has been planning this escape for quite some time. Cecilia has drugged Adrian, disabled the video surveillance, and packed the necessary items to leave Adrian for good.

There are a few scary close calls in Cecilia’s escape plan, but with the help of her younger sister Emily (played by Harriet Dyer), who drives the getaway car, Cecilia leaves Adrian behind with a mixture of relief and panic. Knowing that Adrian will look for Cecilia at Emily’s place, Cecilia hides out at the house of her close friend James Lanier (played by Aldis Hodge), who’s a cop and a single father to teenage daughter Sydney (played by Storm Reid), an aspiring fashion designer.

In the first two weeks after the escape, Cecilia is so traumatized that she acts like a recently released prisoner of war who’s become agoraphobic. Walking out of the house to the mailbox is big progress for her. It’s while she’s away from Adrian that Cecilia finally confesses to Emily and James the real reason why she has to take drastic measures to hide from Adrian. During Cecilia’s relationship with Adrian, he became more and more controlling and abusive. He would tell her what to do, when to eat, and what to think. And if she didn’t comply with his demands, he would hit her or do “something worse,” says Cecilia.

Cecilia is still afraid to come out of hiding, but then Emily (who’s an attorney) brings her some unexpected news: Adrian is dead of an apparent suicide, which has been reported by the local media. Not long afterward, Emily and Cecilia have a meeting with Adrian’s lawyer brother Tom Griffin (played by Michael Dorman), who is the executor of Adrian’s will. Tom tells them that Adrian left $5 million to Cecilia, on the condition that she’s proven to be mentally stable and she doesn’t get arrested for anything.

Feeling like the world’s weight has been lifted off of her shoulders, Cecilia starts to come out of her shell. As a gift, she gives $10,000 to Sydney so she can go to Parsons School of Design, and Cecilia promises more tuition money if Sydney wants to go to grad school. Cecilia also decides to resume her interrupted career as an architect, and she starts interviewing for jobs to re-enter her chosen profession.

But odd things happen during Cecilia’s job interview at an architect firm. The work samples that she had in a portfolio are not there when she opens up her portfolio. And then she passes out during the interview.

Other strange things keep happening. While cooking something in a frying pan, Cecilia briefly leaves the room and comes back to find the frying pan in flames, and it almost nearly causes a serious fire in the house. And then one night, Cecilia wakes up to find the blanket at the foot of the bed, and she sees a footprint on the blanket.

All of these  incidents might be explained away with logical reasons, but what sets Cecilia over the edge is when a prescription bottle, which she accidentally dropped during her escape from Adrian, shows up in her possession with a bloody fingerprint on it. Cecilia is convinced that it’s a sign from Adrian that he’s still alive, he’s invisible, and he’s taunting her. And things do indeed get much, much worse for Cecilia, as people around her question her sanity and she’s accused of something that could land her in prison for a very long time.

The 2020 version of “The Invisible Man” was written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who wrote the first two “Saw” movies and who created the “Insidious” franchise. (He’s written all of the “Insidious” movies so far.) “The Invisible Man” is his third movie as a director. It’s clear that he learned a lot from writing and directing the 2018 stunt-heavy film horror film “Upgrade,” because “The Invisible Man” has some heart-pounding stunts when people are fighting the Invisible Man.

Whannell’s “The Invisible Man” doesn’t rely too heavily on a lot of violence and gore for scares. (Although there is some bloody violence that will make people squirm.) Some of the most suspenseful moments in the film are the quietest moments or the claustrophobic moments, such as when Cecilia does some snooping in an attic where her invisible abuser might be hiding.

As the tortured Cecilia, Moss gives an excellent performance in making her an entirely believable character who might be losing her grip on her sanity. Hodge and Reid also give admirable performances by adding realistic emotional layers to what could have been generic supporting roles.

While a lot of modern horror films have been using hand-held camera techniques to induce scares, Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio have gone against this trend by framing many of the shots with steady overhead angles, which make the scenes more terrifying. It’s why the 2020 version of “The Invisible Man” is the type of horror movie that should be seen on as big of a screen as possible.

The above-average acting and the modern reimagination of this classic horror story make up for the fact that “The Invisible Man” has some plot holes, especially with unrealistic police techniques and procedures. However, these minor flaws shouldn’t take too much away from the film.

“The Invisible Man” is the first of a series of remakes of Universal Pictures monster movies that Universal has assigned to Blumhouse Productions, whose specialty is horror, with franchises such as “The Purge” and “Insidious.” Universal’s classic monster movies include “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Mummy,” “The Wolf Man” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Let’s hope that these remakes will continue what this version of “The Invisible Man” started, by bringing fresh ideas without tarnishing the quality of the original story.

Universal Pictures released “The Invisible Man” in U.S. cinemas on February 28, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the VOD release of “The Invisible Man” to March 20, 2020.

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