My Daughter is Out There (Film Review: “Lost Girls”)

Ripped from the headlines, the back story behind one of the most grisly unsolved murder cases in New York history. . . a tour de force for Amy Ryan.

SnapShot Plot

In May of 2010, a young New Jersey woman named Shannan Gilbert went missing after she was last seen running from a client’s house in the Oak Beach section of Long Island. Shannan was working as an escort and living mostly estranged from her single mother, Mari Gilbert and her two younger sisters, one of whom suffered with significant emotional and psychiatric issues. The film, Lost Girls is the fact-based account of the one-woman onslaught that Mari Gilbert waged against the Suffolk County, NY police department to find her daughter, alive or dead.

Amy Ryan stars as Mari Gilbert, a flawed, tough-talking, gutsy woman who’s not impressed with badges or titles and certainly won’t back down when she’s got something to say. To suggest she’s the Mother of the Year would be laughable; she’d be the first to tell you where to go with that. But she also owns her baggage. As the plot twists and turns, pitting Gilbert mostly against the reluctantly engaged Commissioner Richard Dormer (played with a haunted gravitas by Gabriel Byrne), we slowly begin to piece together the very sad deck of cards Mari’s had to play in her life.

Mari finds herself at war, combating a baked-in animus and disinterest on the part of the police department to ‘waste’ too much time and resources in the investigation of a missing ‘hooker’. When the police finally back down and start digging in earnest in and around the area where Shannan went missing, it’s mostly because of the media scrutiny generated by Mari’s one-woman bullhorn. When the bodies of female sex workers begin to pile up, having been buried over a period of some years, the scene up and down the South shore of Long Island comes to national attention as one of the most grisly unsolved crimes in U.S. history. Shannan’s body is eventually discovered there as well, bringing no end of grief to her family, but at least a degree of closure, one would hope.

This investigative true crime story is itself tragic, for the Gilbert family and several other families too; between 10 and 16 bodies have been found along the South Shore of Long Island and attributed to this crime spree which lasted during a period of 20 years. The numbers are still unclear, as are the suspects. There has never been an arrest, and to this day it’s not certain if one person acted alone or if we’re looking at more than one killer. Several names have also been coined for the The Long Island Serial Killer (also referred to as LISK, the Gilgo Beach Killer or the Craigslist Ripper).

Even though we know how this sad story ends – at least for the purposes of the film – it’s nonetheless a riveting and suspense-filled experience from start to finish. With a clear social message at the core, having to do with law enforcement’s moral judgments upon the victims of violent and sordid crimes. Stay through to the closing credits, for a sobering real-life update on the Gilbert family, beyond that which was depicted in the film.

Parting Shot

This film was based on Robert Kolker’s nonfiction book entitled, “Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery”. In many ways, the movie feels like a documentary, for it’s strict attention to the facts as well as its director, the respected documentarian filmmaker Liz Garbus. Garbus made her scripted debut with Lost Girls, and is currently in the news for her new HBO series entitled, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, about the Golden State Killer, which debuts on June 28.

Up and comer, Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace; JoJo Rabbit) turns in a subtle and sympathetic counterpoint performance as Mari’s second oldest daughter. But Amy Ryan owns this movie, full stop. She’s always been a powerhouse actor, adept on stage & screen, in Comedy & Drama . . . the kind of performer who you hope the material is good enough for. She drives home a single message in each and every scene of Lost Girls: Someone shouldn’t have to be Perfect to be fought for. An especially relevant and searing truth in our country and around the world, right about now.

Lost Girls is presently streaming on Netflix.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern (presently known as Pandemic Diaries) as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer:

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