Tag Archives: Maggie Gyllenhaal

A Day at the Beach

The Lost Daughter

by Hope Madden

Unnerving intimacy marks Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut as a feature director, The Lost Daughter.

The veteran actor moves behind the camera to capture a weeklong holiday in Greece. Leda (Olivia Colman) lounges seaside and scribbles notes for another book. Little work gets done, though, thanks to the very large, very wealthy, very rowdy family that crowds the beach each day, but one member of that family sends Leda’s mind reeling back to her own youth.

Jessie Buckley’s young Leda captures the rich and volatile version of the woman Colman delivers on the beaches of Greece. The two performances never mirror or mimic each other. Rather, Buckley’s frustration and passion inform the reflective but still impetuous middle-aged woman taking stock of her life.

An actor whose unerring talent feels effortless, though no doubt it is not, Gyllenhaal draws that same kind of vulnerable, raw performance from her leads. Both versions of Leda surprise with a balance of moments, both ugly and dear. Anger lies behind their eyes, as well as longing and the regrettable loneliness of an outsider.

Colman conveys enormous emotional weight with her physical performance. The way she holds herself, the expressions that linger on her face, the changes in her gait—all of it articulates the particular suffering of this human in a way dialog never could.

Gyllenhaal frames the film as if to point out that the story is there, and is important, but of equal value is the way Leda sees the life unfolding around her. The approach is genius but unforgiving. A lesser cast could peter out with this level of attention. Luckily for all of us, Gyllenhaal’s uniformly subline cast (which includes Dakota Johnson and Ed Harris, both marvels) meets the challenge.

The deliberate camerawork in The Lost Daughter crafts a disquieting spell. Whether so close to an embrace you can almost smell the baby shampoo, or holding a distant glance at a stranger long enough to ensure its discomfort, Hélène Louvart’s cinematography disconcerts — as it did in Eliza Hittman’s 2020 treasure Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

Adapting Elena Ferrante’s novel, Gyllenhaal challenges romantic preconceptions about motherhood (sometimes quite bitingly, thanks to lines delivered with acidic precision by the remarkable Colman). The film acknowledges what is given up, what is lost, when you essentially transfer ownership of yourself—your time, your attention, your future—to someone else, to your children. The theme is deeply and honestly felt, and that, too, is unnerving.

Tell Me More, Tell Me More

Best Summer Ever

by George Wolf

Bad Mood? Tough week?

If Best Summer Ever doesn’t turn your frown upside down, I’ll eat a bug.

Two high schoolers not named Danny and Sandy enjoy some sweetly romantic summer nights, then go their separate ways…until fate brings them back together for a musical teenage dream filled with a wonderfully diverse cast of actors.

Anthony (Rickey Wilson, Jr., showing easy charisma) and Sage, a charmer in a wheelchair (Shannon DeVido – who effortlessly steals this film), meet at a summer dance camp in Vermont. Anthony tells Sage he attends a dance academy in NYC – but’s he’s really a football star in Pennsylvania who relishes the chance to indulge his secret love of dance. Sage has a secret of her own – the illegal pot business her two moms (Eileen Grubba and Holly Palmer) operate that keeps the family constantly on the move.

But at summer’s end, an unexpected complication leads to Sage’s family landing in Pa. – and Sage enrolling at the very same high school Anthony attends! Oooh, this is delicious, especially for Queen Bee Beth (a terrific Madeline Rhodes, aka MuMu, also part of the songwriting team), the evil cheerleader who hatches a devious plan to become Homecoming Queen and take Anthony as her King!

Directors/co-writers Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli craft an irresistible take on the high school musical, populated by just as many physically and/or developmentally challenged actors as not. The joyful representation in this film will swell your heart, especially when you realize – early on – that none of the characters’ perceived disabilities are treated as anything less than ordinary.

And more than that, there isn’t an ounce of condescension to be found, as Randa and Smitelli find some big laughs skewering high school stereotypes. Beth casually drops surprise dick jokes, and two Statler and Waldorf-type booth announcers (Eric Folan and Phil Lussier) bring some hearty sarcasm to the big Homecoming game. See, Anthony is the team’s kicker – and he’s the star because the rest of the team sucks so badly (which causes the resentful quarterback [Jacob Waltuck] to hilariously cuss out the crowd).

Yes, the songs are often cheesy and sung over what sounds like weak karaoke backing tracks, but the title tune’s been stuck in my head for days now.

You’ll see some big names in the film’s list of producers, and some (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard) even pop up in cameos. But the most important may be the members of Zeno Mountain Farm – a Vermont retreat committed to a world where “all can thrive, feel connected, and be empowered.”

For 72 minutes, Best Summer Ever gives us a glimpse of what that world might look like, and it’s inspiring, exhilarating and fun.

But watch out for that Beth – she’s so mean!

Best Summer Ever is available to stream starting Tuesday, April 27th

It’s All In His Head


by Hope Madden

An interesting cinematic trend is emerging: cast the best, most talented, best looking performers in roles where we can’t see them. As counterintuitive as it appears, it has been wildly successful. Scarlett Johansson was never better than in her disembodied role in Her, while Bradley Cooper was a laugh riot as a pissed off raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy. And now, the great Michael Fassbender dons a huge, smiley, fake head for nearly the entire duration of his new film, Frank.

It definitely works.

Of course it does, he’s Michael Fassbender, exactly the actor who’d be drawn to such a role. Fassbender is wonderful, naturally, this time with a delicate charm. His gesturing, physical presence, and endearing vocal delivery outline a beautiful performance that drives the film and, eventually, breaks your heart.

Though this film is hardly a tragedy. It’s wryly funny, at times satirical but routinely quite intimate. Co-written by Jon Ronson, the film is inspired by the enigmatic musician/comic/giant-head-wearer Chris Sievey, to whom the film is dedicated and with whom Ronson briefly played.

Writing with Peter Straughan – his collaborator on The Men Who Stare at Goats – Ronson recreates himself as the everyman character Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), an aspiring musician who stumbles into eccentric frontman Frank’s band when the previous keyboardist tries to drown himself. Then Jon’s off to the woods for 18 months to record with a group who mostly loathe him.

As Clara, the Lady Macbeth for this band on the fringes, the always magnificent Maggie Gyllenhaal controls every situation with a withering glare. Gyllenhaal’s weary expression carries with it the untold baggage and band history that Jon just isn’t interested in understanding.

Lenny Abrahamson’s utterly masterful direction first draws you in with Jon’s artistic voyage, but a slyly evolving storyline populated with playful but authentic performances leads you somewhere surprising yet inevitable.

Frank, though joyous, odd and thoroughly enjoyable, slowly exposes the limits of talent, the weight of enduring relationships, and the corruptively seductive power of fame.

It’s also an insightful ode to the transcendent, mad magic of music.