Directing your debut feature as an established actor has its pros and cons. You can call in favours to land a stellar cast including Olivia Colman, Ed Harris, Dakota Johnson, Paul Mescal and Jessie Buckley, but the scrutiny is guaranteed to be intense as a result of your star power. Maggie Gyllenhaal aces both sides of the deal, making the most of her superb cast in her debut film as writer and director, The Lost Daughter.

Adapted from the Elena Ferrante novel, Gyllenhaal’s script is superb at navigating an unorthodox and rather literary plot, which relies a lot on internalised emotion. The ensemble cast are all beautifully imagined, so much so, that you’d be quite content for the story to switch tack and follow any one of them. But only for a little while, because Olivia Colman is so gripping in the lead role of Leda Caruso it’s hard to take your eyes off her. Most of her ‘action’ involves wandering around a Greek beach or seething in her apartment, but she makes every moment compelling. She can, and does, get a laugh in an empty room; and maybe that’s for the best, considering anytime she spends with other people runs the risk of ending in a fight.

Leda is stubborn, independent, and not afraid of saying what she thinks- a combination that perhaps explains why she’s on this beach alone. She is hiding a difficult past, but it’s refreshing to find that past explored in a mature and grounded way, instead of the sensationalised version that threatens for a while.

Gyllenhaal demonstrates impressive control for a debut director, instantly reassuring the viewer that she knows what she’s doing. But she drops the ball at the end of this quietly heart-breaking drama, with the final 20 minutes begging to be cut.

RATING: 4/5      


INFORMATION

CAST: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Ed Harris

DIRECTOR: Maggie Gyllenhaal

WRITERS: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elena Ferrante (based on the novel by)

SYNOPSIS: A woman’s beach vacation takes a dark turn when she begins to confront the troubles of her past.