Saturday, February 1, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Lost Girls

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Lost Girls
Directed by Liz Garbus

Adapting a true story requires a certain sensitivity, especially if there were people harmed or killed in real life whose memories will now be revisited by a wide audience thanks to their being featured. A review of such projects should also maintain some degree of respect, with analysis only of the film portrayal itself and not meant to disparage any of the events that actually occurred and the people involved. Separating those two notions is important, since a powerful real-life story can turn out to be a lackluster and disappointing film, which should say nothing about the quality or worth of what’s showcased within it.

Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan) is a single mother struggling to make ends meet, and she reluctantly calls her oldest daughter Shannon to ask for a loan. When Shannon fails to show up for dinner, Mari becomes worried that something has happened to her. That concern grows exponentially when police find four bodies in the area where she went missing, and she watches with astonishment and dismay as her missing daughter is referred to repeatedly as a prostitute on news reports. The local police, represented by the commissioner (Gabriel Byrne) and an officer with little patience (Dean Winters), don’t treat Shannon’s case with the urgency Mari demands, prompting her to make sure that she is heard and that her daughter is not forgotten forever.

This film is based on a 2013 novel by Robert Kolker about events that happened in Long Island in 2010 and have been attributed to an unidentified serial killer. This angle tries to shine a spotlight on police misconduct, looking only for public relations wins and not intent on actually finding the answers so desperately needed by the Gilbert family and relatives of the other victims found, who appear in this film as they join with Mari to provide support and make some noise. It’s a compelling case, to be sure, but this cinematic retelling doesn’t dive into it in an interesting way, settling instead for expected confrontation scenes and big speeches.

Ryan, who also appears in “Worth” at Sundance this year, delivers an adequate if unmemorable performance as Mari. What’s strangest and most disruptive about the cast is that Thomasin McKenzie, who was excellent in “Leave No Trace” and “Jojo Rabbit” and has a history of terrific accent work, is the only one putting on a heavy New York dialect, which makes her turn feel over-the-top and everyone else’s feel lacking. This should be an intense and disturbing film about an “unsolved American mystery,” as the opening titles describe it, but instead it’s a forgettable take on a case that should absolutely not be forgotten.


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