THE LOST DAUGHTER (2021)

December 18, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. There are so many things that go unspoken about parenting, and first time writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal specifically focuses her lens on the pressures of motherhood, by adapting the 2006 novel from the anonymous and talented and mysterious Italian writer Elena Ferrante. Of course, we are all aware of Ms. Gyllenhaal’s fine work as an actor, yet it’s almost beyond belief that this is her debut as a feature film director. The source material is strong, but Ms. Gyllenhaal, along with a terrific performance from Olivia Colman (Oscar winner, THE FAVOURITE, 2018), turn a coastline vacation into a mesmerizing psychological case study.

Ms. Colman proves yet again what a fine and versatile actor she is. Here she plays Leda, a divorced professor on solo holiday on a picturesque Greek island, staying in a refurbished lighthouse tended by longtime caretaker Lyle (Ed Harris). Leda is packing a satchel full of books and academia work, and is a bit perturbed when her isolated beach time is suddenly interrupted by a large and noisy family of vacationers from Queens. Being an observant loner, Leda eyes young mother Nina (Dakota Johnson) who is struggling with her daughter, as well as her husband and other family members. This triggers memories in Leda that are handled via flashbacks with a terrific Jessie Buckley (I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS, 2020) as young Leda, stressed out wife and mother to two daughters. She longs for her own space.

At face value, this appears to be a movie about a woman annoyed that she can’t just enjoy a quiet holiday on the sandy beach as she reads her books. However, there are so many layers to the story and to Leda, that as viewers, we must remain on high alert to pick up all the queues and subtleties. Watching Nina with her daughter and husband sends Leda deep into her past … a past that still haunts her to this day. At the same time, while gazing at Leda, Nina can’t help but wonder if she is looking at her own future self.

Much of what we see (past and present) reinforces the isolation and frustration felt by so many mothers. It has nothing to do with loving one’s kids, but rather maintaining one’s sanity and self-being. There are a few key moments, including one that creates tension between Leda and the vacationing family, and another that immediately connects the two. Leda’s past includes steps that would be considered taboo for any wife and mother, and the symmetry of her past and Nina’s present are striking.

Peter Sarsgaard (director Gyllenhaal’s real life husband) has a supporting role in the flashbacks, while Dagmara Dominczyk plays a critical role as Callie, part of Nina’s large family. Bonus points are won with a Leonard Cohen reference (that may or may not be true), and also playing key roles here are a missing doll (connecting Leda’s past and present) and the proper way to peel an orange. Cinematographer Helene Louvart works wonders balancing the beautiful setting with the not-always-beautiful actions of the characters. Especially potent here is the performance of Olivia Colman, who proves she can play most any role. It’s also remarkable what first time director Maggie Gyllenhaal has accomplished here. This is a multi-layered, nuanced look at how relentless parenting can often feel overwhelming and may even lead to feelings of guilt later in life. It’s rare to see such a raw look at the emotions behind what is often referred to as the joy of motherhood. The film leaves little doubt that the always-dependable actor Maggie Gyllenhaal is now one of the most interesting new filmmakers on the scene.

In select theaters on December 17, 2021 and on Netflix beginning December 31, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


LET’S KILL WARD’S WIFE (2014)

January 2, 2015

Let's kill ward's wife Greetings again from the darkness. What would it take for you and your buddies to talk about killing someone? Perhaps you already have … you know, in a joking way … maybe while playing golf together. That’s what happens to Ronnie (James Carpinello), David (Patrick Wilson), and Tom (Scott Foley). A couple of cracks about wanting to kill Stacy (Dagmara Dominczyk), wife of their buddy Ward (Donald Faison), leads to further discussion and an uncomfortable google search.

Since all that is pretty gloomy, you should know that this is a comedy. It’s a very dark comedy (given the title) that is filled with a stream of one-liners and some outlandish behavior from a group of people who will never be considered criminal masterminds. On top of that, it comes across as some kind of psycho-sexual, spouse-swapping filmmaking project for first time feature writer/director Scott Foley.

Let’s see if we can connect the dots: In real life, Foley is married to Marika Dominczyk (she plays David’s wife in the movie) who is also the real life sister of Dagmara Dominczyk (Ward’s wife) who is the real life wife of Patrick Wilson. James Carpinello’s real life wife is (Dallas’ own) Amy Acker (she plays Tom’s wife), and we also get the real life daughter of Carpinello/Acker and the real life son of Foley/Marika … plus the younger sister of Marika and Dagmara. That’s more crossover than most community theater productions!

You may recognize Scott Foley from TV’s “Felicity” (or many other projects), and this is his first feature film as writer/director. The cast is obviously having a great time, and in that manner, reminds a bit of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Joss Whedon’s 2012 version), which was also cast with a group of close friends (including Amy Acker, who also stars here). There are also similarities to VERY BAD THINGS, the 1998 film that brought out the worst traits of its characters. However as stated, this one is filled with offbeat humor and can best be described as black comedy. We even get Nicolette Sheridan as an on-the-prowl aging actress.

Some excellent films are referenced here, including: PULP FICTION, FARGO, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and TRAINING DAY. Clearly this film is not near the level of any of those, but they are used to keep the dialogue amongst friends presented in a grounded way for such an outrageous premise. This one won’t make you think much – and please don’t let it convince you that murder is a good idea. It might, however, generate a few laughs, and that’s always welcome.

watch the trailer: