The moment I saw Olivia Colman dancing around to Bon Jovi in The Lost Daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s new drama that is now streaming on Netflix, I knew I was going to have a happy new year. The Lost Daughter—written and directed by Gyllenhaal, who adapted the script from Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name—is not a particularly happy movie. Nor has it been a particularly happy year, all things considered. But for at least 30 seconds in The Lost Daughter, Olivia Colman screams along to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” And in those 30 seconds, I felt nothing but pure joy.
To understand this scene, which comes near the end of the film, you will need a smidge of background on The Lost Daughter plot. Colman stars as a professor named Leda, who, while on vacation in Greece, becomes fascinated by a young mother named Nina (Dakota Johnson), who is staying nearby. Memories of Leda’s own past as a young mother of two girls get drudged up, and they aren’t exactly happy. One day, Nina’s daughter gets lost on the beach. Leda is the one who finds the little girl, and she returns her, but she also secretly steals the girl’s favorite doll. The girl is distraught without her doll, and her family has gone crazy looking for it. The caretaker for Leda’s apartment, Lyle (Ed Harris), knows Leda has the doll but hasn’t said anything. Why did she take it? It’s not entirely clear but has something to do with the way Leda is working through her own trauma of motherhood.
All of that takes us to my favorite scene in the film. Leda attends a party on a patio, and Lyle the caretaker invites her to dance. After some persuading, Leda agrees. They dance for a bit, and then the song changes. It’s those tell-tale electric keyboard notes of Bon Jovi’s signature hit single, “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Leda exclaims that she loves the song, and then starts singing along with abandon. Her face is red, and a little sweaty. She shimmies and wiggles, while Ed Harris hops around her joyfully, egging her on.
Photo: YANNIS DRAKOULIDIS/NETFLIX © 2021
It’s silly. But it’s also breathtakingly beautiful. It is the first and last time we will see adult Leda truly happy, without reservations, without anxiety, and without guilt. It is her only moment of sheer pleasure, and, after nearly two hours of dread, it’s the audience’s only moment, too. Of course, it is far too brief.
Before she can even get through the second verse, Leda spots Nina’s husband, a mobster, glaring at her menacingly. Lyle sees them, too, and tells her that she better leave. It’s not clear whether or not they know that Leda stole the doll, but she doesn’t want to find out. The way the smile drops off of her face is nothing less than heartbreaking. Just like that, her moment of happiness is over. You won’t see it again; not really. But, hey. At least we’ll always have Jon Bon Jovi.
Watch The Lost Daughter on Netflix