Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal has gone from acting to being behind the camera. Her feature debut is an adaptation of the novel by Italian author, Elena Ferrante. It won Best Screenplay at the Venice International Film Festival and at the Gotham Awards. It’s likely to get an Oscar nomination in the writing category. The nominations for the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards were just announced and Olivia Colman was listed for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role. Colman has won the Oscar before, so the odds are in her favor that she’ll be put in line to win again.
Olivia Colman (The Father and The Favourite) stars as Leda Caruso, a college professor who’s on vacation in Greece. She’s staying at a rental apartment that’s near a beach resort. She’s apparently single, but she does have children, or at least a daughter who’s most likely an adult by now. She seems content to be alone on this trip, but she’s not anti-social. She seems a bit reticent, perhaps a bit standoffish. It’s not clear as to why.
Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey and Bad Times at the El Royale) co-stars as Nina, a young mother who’s also on vacation. She’s not alone. She’s there with her husband and her daughter who’s a toddler. She’s also there with her sister. It appears from Leda’s vantage point that Nina isn’t really enjoying herself. Her husband might be a bit of a jerk, if not somewhat abusive. Her daughter is a bit of a brat or somewhat unruly.
A momentary incident brings Leda and Nina together. The two then commiserate over being mothers. This film is really about motherhood and deconstructing it or it explores the idea of women not wanting to be mothers or not liking being mothers. Leda recognizes herself or her experience in the observations of Nina. She recognizes a kindred spirit in Nina. There appears to be some bonding between the two women. What’s strange is that Leda betrays Nina with a bizarre act, but the film doesn’t really do enough to explain that betrayal.
The film is mainly a vehicle or platform to watch Colman inhabit this character. She has become such an interesting and compelling screen presence that anything she does becomes necessary viewing. Her reactions in various scenes alone are just compelling, interesting or sheer quirky. She brings a uniqueness to cinema that is rare to find. Gyllenhaal’s direction is able to build tension and intrigue in very subtle ways. Some might think it slow, but it certainly shows an assured nature on Gyllenhaal’s part.
Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 1 min.
Available on Netflix.