Lost Girls




How lost should a woman be if she decides to work in the world’s oldest profession?


Lost Girls

Fighting fit: Amy Ryan


The key line in this true-life mystery is: “a policeman deals in evidence, not in anger.” And yet it is anger that gets the police work done. Liza Garbus’s Lost Girls is yet another female-driven drama that exposes the prejudices of our time. But it’s not a cry against sexism, racism, or anti-Semitism – it’s a cry against human prejudice. Unfortunately, Lost Girls is hardly an exciting title. A more arresting moniker might have been Prostitutes Have Mothers, Too.


In May of 2010, Shannan, the 24-year-old daughter of Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan), failed to turn up for dinner in Ellenville, New York. Working every hour that God sends, Mari is incensed that her shifts at a construction site have been cut in favour of a younger, new employee. She waits tables, too, and is bringing up two other daughters, Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie) and Sarra (Oona Laurence). However, Shannan left home when she was 12-years-old and there seems to be a strained relationship between her and her mother. Then Shannan refuses to answer Sherre’s calls and her boyfriend rings to ask where she is. Tempering her raising anxiety, Mari says, “I’m sure it’s fine. Give it a day.” Another day passes with no word from Shannan, and Mari contacts the police. It transpires that the missing woman made a hysterical 911 call the night of her disappearance, but the police took over an hour to respond. And now she’s nowhere to be found. Then, when searching for her whereabouts, the police stumble across the bodies of four prostitutes…


What Mari cannot come to terms with is that her daughter turned to prostitution and drugs. She then reaches out to the mothers of the other victims who, like her, feel that the police don’t take the disappearance of “sex workers” as seriously as other missing women. So, while Commissioner Richard Dormer (Gabriel Byrne) dithers around the case, Mari starts turning up real evidence, stapling up missing person posters across the community and interviewing witnesses. One would almost think the police had something to hide…


One senses there may have been a more interesting story hovering in the side-lines. The film is never less than absorbing, there’s a towering central performance from Amy Ryan and DP Igor Martinovic gives it all a very handsome sheen. Liz Garbus is a documentary filmmaker of note, with such titles as Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011), Love, Marilyn (2012) and What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) to her credit, but this is her first dramatized work, albeit based on actual events – drawn from Robert Kolker’s 2013 book Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery. There are many reasons for giving the film your time, not least Amy Ryan’s display of wrath tempered with guilt. Now 51, Ryan attracted attention with her Oscar-nominated role in Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (2007), in which she also played a mother searching for her missing daughter.


All these elements engage our interest, but the real state of affairs at the heart of the Gilbert household suggests the potential for greater dramatic fireworks. A director like Lynne Ramsay, Debra Granik or Catherine Hardwicke might have given us a more combustible domestic dynamic. In the event, six years later Mari Gilbert was stabbed to death by her daughter Sarra. One almost feels short-changed by missing out on the bigger story that unfolded after the film’s close. This is really the narrative of a family in crisis, not about a lackadaisical police force and the detective work of a ballsy woman.




Cast: Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Lola Kirke, Oona Laurence, Dean Winters, Miriam Shor, Reed Birney, Kevin Corrigan, Gabriel Byrne, Rosal Colon, Ana Reeder, Molly Brown, Stan Carp, Austyn Johnson.


Dir Liz Garbus, Pro Anne Carey and Kevin McCormick, Screenplay Michael Werwie, Ph Igor Martinovic, Pro Des Lisa Meyers, Ed Camilla Toniolo, Music Anne Nikitin, Costumes Marci Rodgers.


Archer Gray/Langley Park Productions-Netflix.

95 mins. USA. 2020. Rel on Netflix: 13 March 2020. Cert. 15.