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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Lost Daughter, or: Hello, Dolly

*Spoilers follow*

Even though 2022 is unlikely to bring about that vacation to Santorini I’ve been dreaming about, this week the Blog Collab provides an alternative: Olivia Colman going to Greece and lazing around on a beach. Admittedly she’s bringing along plenty of familial baggage for the ride, and not in a Mamma Mia! spin-off sort of way. Hooray?

The Film:

The Lost Daughter

Director:

Maggie Gyllenhaal

The Premise:

While vacationing on her own, a professor meets a young mother and daughter, leading her to reflect on the choices she made as a mother.

The Ramble:

For a woman vacationing on a beautiful beach in Greece, Leda doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself much. As a professor who studies literature in translation, she’s on a working holiday that is frequently interrupted by a rowdy group of tourists from Queens. One woman in particular with a young daughter draws Leda’s attention and takes her back to memories of her own experiences as a young mother.

A middle-aged woman in loose clothing lounges on a beach chair, holding an ice cream cone.

Through observation, Leda learns that the young woman, Nina, is in an unhappy marriage with a controlling husband. Nina seems to be short on patience with her daughter Elena, who is never seen without her precious doll. Most shocking of all, Leda stumbles across the discovery that Nina is having an affair with quiet pool assistant Will.

While Leda is content to observe from a distance, she’s reluctantly drawn into the family’s orbit when she helps find lost Elena at the beach one day. Unfortunately, Elena loses her doll as well, and her stubborn loyalty means the entire family must conduct a search. Unbeknownst to the group, Leda is actually responsible for the doll’s disappearance, which serves as a reminder of her childhood doll, later gifted to one of her own children.

A young woman smiles and holds her daughter, who has her arms wrapped around the woman.

Leda’s doll experienced a rather violent end, as it turns out. Struggling to balance the pressures of motherhood with the demands of a career in academia, Leda was frequently short-tempered with her children and in need of solitude. So much so that she later reveals to Nina that she left her children to be raised by their father when they were still quite young, following her own extramarital affair.

A woman holds up a corded phone to her ear, one hand on her young daughter's head in a part comforting, part dismissive gesture.

Feeling like a failure as a mother, Leda’s grief and guilt drive some of her rather questionable choices in the present. Despite a maternal relationship growing between Leda and Nina, it seems inevitable that the doll conflict will ultimately surface. But how many dramatic & unexpected uses of hatpins will this clash involve?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The award nominations are well-earned for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut as a director. As sad as I am that we’ll probably see less of her onscreen as her directorial career takes off, I can’t wait for the next film where she’s in the director’s chair.

If you’ve been following news of this film, you may be aware of the ambiguity of the ending. For a refreshing change, I’m not bothered by this at all. However you interpret the end, Leda both creates and endures a great deal of pain, and may or may not have found peace and a way forward.

What works so well about the film is its exploration of motherhood and identity, and the ways two women in particular navigate those. Leda and Nina make very different choices, and there doesn’t seem to be judgment in either approach. If anything, their choices are driven by their own need for survival, a motive rarely granted in our cultural understanding of motherhood. There are many pieces of evidence that suggest Leda and Nina are “unnatural” mothers, but they are merely human.

The moral of the story is, as always, put Olivia Colman in your fucking movie.

Would my blog wife pull up a beach chair next to this one or secretly hope it gets lost and stays lost? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

American Mary, or: Murder > Student Loans

Another week, another blog collab! Part who is even counting of Jillian & Christa’s Great Blog Collab! This week was Christa’s choice, American Mary. Check out her review here.

The Film:

American Mary

Where to Watch:

Netflix

The Premise:

A struggling med. school student begins performing body modification surgeries for the extra monies.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

Word of caution: you probably don’t want to eat anything while you’re watching this movie. I was unwinding with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, which I regretted almost immediately b/c the first scene of this film is Mary practicing surgery techniques on a raw turkey. This is perhaps the most disgusting scene in the entire movie (admittedly, I have a particularly strong aversion to raw meat; objectively, some of the later surgery scenes are pretty gross).

a young woman in a lab holds the body of a raw turkey
Thank me for sparing you all of the really disgusting raw turkey screencaps. You’re welcome.

All discussions of raw meat aside, our story focuses on Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps fame), med. student whose ambitions are high but funding is low. Her creditors are harassing her, her professor is harassing her, and she’s trying to sound sane and normal to her Hungarian grandmother.

It kind of seems like this story is about to take a Lifetime movie twist when Mary applies to work for a shady strip club owner, Billy (played by Marco from Bomb Girls, Italian object of my affections). Mary kind of sucks at the whole sexy routine, but Billy offers her $5,000 to perform an off the books surgery in the seedy basement.

The next day, Mary gets a call from a lady named Beatrice, who has had many surgeries to look like Betty Boop. She has a friend who wants to talk to Mary about an operation, which is essentially to finish the process of making her a real-life doll. Including in terms of anatomy. Catch my drift? No? Am I being too vague again? Okay, she basically doesn’t want to have nipples or a vaginal opening anymore.

a woman with short dark hair and facial features that imitate Betty Boop smiles to a figure off-camera
Easily my favorite character in this movie.

Mary gets $12,000 to do the surgery, which I admit would be extremely difficult to turn down. All I can say is there’s a very good reason I’m not a doctor. I mean, besides all of that math and science.

Meanwhile, ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL of the doctors are shady as shit, including and especially her professor. She gets invited to a party with all of the doctors, which lead to a solid 10 minutes of me cringing because it becomes really obvious just how creepy her professor is. You know what I mean.

After the events at the party, Mary quits med. school and gets a new patient in the form of her creepy predator professor. Let’s just say he undergoes a few body modification procedures. She also starts a clinic of sorts for people into body modification, which involves more willing patients but is still illegal as fuck.

Billy keeps having fantasies about Mary, whose sudden transformation is marked by red lipstick (obviously). His fantasies are equal parts hilarious and bizarre, pretty much always involving a sexy dance and blood.

a man with dark hair is seated at a booth
Sir? Sir? I’m going to have to ask you to take your fantasy life elsewhere.

Based on her work for the doll lady, Mary gets attention from twins who run a body mod website/mag, who pay her a visit. They’re German (please, please don’t let this become Human Centipede) and ask Mary to switch their left arms and deepen their connection, whatever the fuck that means. IDK, maybe they’re switching vaginas. It’s unclear what exactly the procedure involves beyond arm switching.

Apparently Mary’s creepy prof is still alive, hanging from hooks in the basement, all limbs amputated, mouth sewn shut. Unfortunately, a cop discovers Mary’s activities, leading to his untimely demise. Billy has decided to take out the doctor who tipped off the police that Mary might be a suspect.

Following all of this, her grandmother dies. We’re rapidly approaching Shakespearean numbers with our body count.

The next time Mary sees Billy, he confesses he may have had something to do with that doctor disappearing. He asks her to go to LA with him for a few weeks, and though she seems interested in him, she is the master of bored facial expressions.

a woman with dark hair looks off to the left in a dimly lit room
I’m sorry, Katharine Isabelle. You are better than this screencap.

When she gets home, Mary gets a call from Beatrice, who has been attacked and left to die. It turns out the doll lady’s husband does not appreciate her body mods, and is after Mary for revenge.

What will happen next???

I don’t know, I kind of like leaving cliff hanger endings. This may be the new normal, guys.

The Critique:

There are certain parts of this movie that worked very well, but many WTF moments too. In terms of plot the movie kind of fell apart, but Katherine Isabelle was great, especially when she was being sarcastic and dark. It was certainly entertaining and went by quickly, but there were times I felt mesmerized in the same way as someone watching a train wreck.

And this is just who I am as a person—looking for meaning where there is none, analyzing everything to death—but what the fuck is an American Mary? Does that mean something I’m not aware of? Or is American just used in the way it’s basically used in all titles to warn the audience that satire may be involved in this production?

I also kind of wanted to see more of Beatrice/the doll lady, which I wouldn’t have expected since I was kind of freaked out by the doll lady. I mean, do what you want to do with your body, but I’m probably going to be at least a little creeped out if you look like a doll.

After this movie, I do admit I sort of want horns or at least Vulcan ears.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I was thinking about 3.5, but then I remembered Antonio Cupo (Billy) doesn’t take his shirt off even once. (Have I ever claimed that I’m not the shallowest of critics? Because if I have, that’s a lie.)

On the bright side, this movie gave me very strange dreams involving Lena Dunham and Antonio Cupo filming a movie together in Italy. I think it was a series of vignettes like Paris Je T’aime except all starring Lena Dunham (because of course they do). In the part I can still remember, Lena Dunham was playing a ‘60s tennis star with a blonde wig who went around looking dramatic on speedboats and trying to impress her benefactor, who I’m 95% sure was Helen Mirren.

Read Christa’s review here for her take on the film!