A nice quality to great art is how addictive it can become. I was once told that, for example, “Breaking Bad” is the kind of series you get hooked on after the first four episodes, tops (truthfully, that show had me after the second episode). Here’s a movie that will have the same effect.  With Lost Girls, I suspect you’ll be hooked after the first 10 minutes and won’t stop thinking about it long afterwards. Liz Garbus’ Lost Girls made its recent Netflix premiere after an acclaimed debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January. It’s no wonder that the streaming service snatched this one up. 

Amy Ryan stars as Mari Gilbert, a mother in search of Shannan, her missing daughter, whose troubling personal life has led to a series of clues leading to a wealthy, closed-gate community in Long Island. No one says they know anything, but Shannan was seen by eyewitnesses, her earring was found at the site of her disappearance and security footage of her appearance has conveniently gone missing. Sadly, this is based on a true story, as reported in Robert Kolker’s true crime novel, Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery.

The takeoff is unsteady, as the inciting incident takes focus away from the early scenes of character building. However, once the search for Shannan becomes the driving force, the film never slows down and builds on a momentum that never ceases. If the early scenes don’t grab you, then the sequence in which a horrifying 911 call recording is endured by Shannan’s family will permanently draw you in.

Ryan is a chameleon, the kind of actress who can play absolutely anyone and become whichever character the material requires of her. Compare her prickly, star-making turn in Gone, Baby Gone with her tender, hilariously awkward performance as the love of Steve Carrell’s life on “The Office.” She may not be an above-the-title movie star yet, but her body of work is impressive for her ability to immerse herself into tricky characters. Here, as a questionable mother in search for her wayward daughter, Ryan manages to make a hard-to-root-for figure human and recognizable.

Playing Mari’s other two daughters are Thomasin Mckenzie (so good in Jojo Rabbit) and Oona Laurence (a gifted scene stealer in Pete’s Dragon and The Beguiled), who are both excellent. The always-welcome Gabriel Byrne brings depth to his role as a beleaguered investigator and Broadway veteran Reed Birney is bone-chilling playing a key suspect in the case.

Documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus is making her feature film debut, following a long list of impressive docs and short films (I recall her accomplished documentary on Bobby Fischer); the immediacy and ability to captivate her audience in documentarian mode is present here as well. Although this is a dramatization of true incidents, it maintains a queasy pull on its audience. I notice how I’ve done the movie critic thing of passing off the success of the film on an “audience” I assume would dig this, so let me be personal: Lost Girls held me in its spell, captivated and queasy the whole ride. (On Netflix)

Three Stars

Rated R/95 Min.

In Case You Missed It: The Farewell

Lulu Wang’s The Farewell was one of last year’s best films. Starring Awkwafina in a stunning, vulnerable dramatic role, this look at how a Chinese family deals with an ailing grandmother is beautiful, moving, and surprisingly funny. Wang’s film tackles heavy subjects with great humor and a gentleness that makes it accessible and life affirming. This was one of the crown jewels of last year’s Maui Film Festival and it gets better with multiple viewings. (On Amazon Prime)

Time to Revisit: The Secret of NIMH

Don Bluth’s 1982 animated fantasy The Secret of NIMH marked his breakthrough, following a departure (actually, a dramatic walk-out) from Disney animation. He later directed An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and Anastasia (among many others) but NIMH is his masterpiece. An intense, vividly drawn, and breathlessly imaginative adaptation of Robert C. O’Brien’s novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, it portrays a field mouse trying to protect her children from a changing world. It may be too scary for the very young but not for kids old enough for Marvel and Harry Potter. This one matches and even surpasses some of Disney’s greatest hits and is among the most original and moving animated films of all time. (On Amazon Prime)

Photos courtesy imdb

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