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


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

Grey Gardens, or: The Hallmark of Aristocracy Is Responsibility

We’re rounding out January with a classic that we have both officially watched now.  No more looking away uncomfortably at parties when someone asks if we’ve seen this week’s pick–not for these bloggers.  And btw, if you’re not attending the kind of party where Grey Gardens comes up in conversation…you are probably leading a quite interesting and fulfilling life.

The Film:

Grey Gardens

The Premise:

The classic documentary about the aunt and cousin of Jackie O who lived together in a decaying old house features much bickering, singing, flag waving, eating corn, and so many cats.

The Uncondensed Version:

Big Edie and Little Edie live together in an old mansion that has fallen into disrepair since their days of being wealthy, high society types ended.  The two women eventually cleaned up the house with the help of Little Edie’s cousin Jackie O, but still seem to be constantly on the verge of eviction.

It’s really difficult to gather an accurate picture of what happened in the past because of the constant bickering and one-upmanship of the two women, but it’s easy to sympathize with them.  Both seem to believe the lifestyle they assumed would be theirs forever is still relevant and sustainable.

an elderly woman lies propped up in bed, wearing a large floppy sun hat
One sustainable lifestyle choice: wearing big floppy hats.

Big Edie achieved some success as a singer in her prime along with her accompanist Gould.  Little Edie herself was a talented dancer…so there are A LOT of song and dance routines in this, some more cringey than others.  Their sudden financial decline was a result of Little Edie’s father, Phelan, leaving the family and getting what she calls a fake Mexican divorce(???).  Her point being that the Edies, as Catholics, do not acknowledge the divorce, but rather consider it a separation.

It’s really never clear to me what (if any) support Phelan provided to his family after leaving (very little, it would appear), and where Little Edie’s brothers are in all of this.  She mentions 2 brothers, but they never seem to visit or even attend Big Edie’s birthday party.  God fucking dammit, men.  Do better.

a gray tabby cat sleeps amidst a nest of wrapping paper
Here’s a cat to make you feel better.

Little Edie reveals she always wanted to marry and had many proposals from well-to-do gentlemen back in her day, which were all sabotaged by her mother.  Likewise, as she was about to get her big break in NYC when she had to return home to care for her mother.  It’s believable, but it also begs the question of the role of fear and comfort in Little Edie’s life.  She seems just as reluctant to leave the house as her mother and gets downright paranoid about someone secretly coming in to the house and moving her books.  Though she talks constantly about returning to NYC and never looking back, she hasn’t done so in the decades she’s lived with her mother in Grey Gardens.  Besides which, she seems unable and possibly unwilling to support herself, claiming she wants to be free and supported.

a woman in a long-sleeved black leotard and head scarf waves an American flag
“Free and supported” sounds like an ad campaign for bras or elastic-free underwear.

This mother-daughter relationship is extremely complicated, as Little Edie has cared for her mother for years but also blames her mother because she feels she has missed out on the opportunity to really live and enjoy life.  Big Edie oscillates between insisting she had men to take care of her and admitting she didn’t want Little Edie to leave her alone.

Little Edie is a self-described staunch character—and it becomes clear her mother matches this description too.  The two women appear to engage in a battle of wills daily, but make amends just as often.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not sure that’s a fair rating, but there’s something deeply unsettling here that is difficult to shake.  The documentary itself is fascinating to watch, but I found myself alternating between the type of fascination from listening to someone tell a really great story and the type you experience when you’re watching a train wreck.

There are many shots of the raccoons and cats that inhabit the house, and of the house itself.  It’s beautiful but covered in ivy and has gigantic holes and visible structural problems, which seems to be a metaphor for the Edies and their mental/emotional state.  Both are very sharp but live in a world they’ve created entirely separate from reality, willfully blind to how dire their situation is in many ways.

In a scene that captures this tension perfectly, Little Edie remarks that one of their many cats is going to the bathroom behind a beautifully painted portrait of a young Big Edie.  Instead of becoming upset, Big Edie remarks she’s glad someone is doing something they want to do.  It’s a moment full of humor, tenderness, heartbreak, and disgust all at once, and the very essence of this film—simultaneously in horror and admiration of these staunch characters.

a black cat's face peeks out from behind a framed piece of art
Aforementioned cat giving zero fucks.

Was my blog wife staunchly in favor or opposed to the multi-cat lifestyle depicted in this film?  Read her review here to find out!