Film Review: “Margarita” Presents Strong Female Lead While Tackling Dual Social Justice Issues

Margarita (2012) is a comedy drama directed by Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert that provides an interesting character study from the perspective of a strong, young woman who knows what she wants and is not afraid to ask for it. The title character is a Mexican nanny, played by Nicola Correia Damude, working and living in Canada with idealistic doctor Gail (Claire Lautier) and her dentist husband Ben (Patrick McKenna), and their daughter Mali (Maya Ritter), who she was hired to take care of six years before.

As it quickly becomes apparent, though, Mali isn’t her only charge – Margarita’s role has grown to include cooking, cleaning, utility and grounds maintenance, and even subtle financial planning on behalf of the slightly clueless power couple. In one of the first scenes, a repo truck arriving to tow away their family car as they return from a botched ski weekend is the first sign that things aren’t right, and you soon realize that despite being a doctor and a dentist respectively, Gail and Ben are heavily in debt due to a series of bad investments and poor financial decisions. Desperate to keep this info from their now 14-year-old daughter, they go through a long list of possible ways to cut back on money, finally coming to one glaring option – to let Margarita go to save on her annual salary costs.

But neither of them finds it as easy as they think. Each time they attempt to broach the subject of giving her the boot (without risking the ire of their aloof teenage daughter who considers Margarita her best friend) they continue to come up against the sheer force of her strong but compassionate will, and begin to realize all the extensive household duties she handles for them without complaining or even seeking attention for, things that they’ve essentially taken for granted the past six years.

When they finally do get up the nerve to fire her (over a glass of wine from a bottle Margarita herself bought to replace what they had finished) her dismay and anger are apparent. At their insistence that they still consider her family, she retorts, “In Mexico we don’t fire family,” and walks off to her basement room, taking her bottle of wine with her.

To add to the turmoil, Margarita had, days before, asked her law student girlfriend Jane (Christine Horne) to marry her. Having been dating only five months, it is understandable when the commitment-phobic Jane hesitates and dances around the question with jokes (“Are you pregnant??”), but Margarita is serious. They both love each other and she does not see what the problem is. However, now, with the news of her termination, a secret is uncovered – Margarita is in Canada illegally. So she turns to her friend, the Brazilian gardener Carlos (Marco Grazzini), who has an incurable crush on her, to provide her with false ID to allow her to enroll in and finish high school, and then go to college to improve her job (and immigration) prospects. But things never go as smoothly as planned, and this is no exception.

I like this film. It was beautifully shot, and it mashes together the issue of illegal foreign nannies with the current global gay marriage debate to create some moments of delightful absurdity, especially when Margarita’s status is inadvertently discovered and the family scramble to keep her in Canada by any schemes necessary.

It is a phenomenal portrayal of a strong female character in Margarita – appropriate for its inclusion in the Female Eye Film Fest (something I’m deliriously happy exists) but I did feel it ended on a slightly too-tidy note, and it gives an almost cartoony depiction at times of the hapless couple she works for and takes more care of than the child she was hired for! Case in point – a telling scene in which the presumably highly educated Ben fails to figure out the mechanics of making a smoothie.

Nevertheless, the film presents appealing and empathetic characters, and a refreshingly realistic love relationship depicted between Ben and Gail. It also gives a portrayal of a lesbian couple not as a political statement or salacious joke, but simply as a relationship between two twenty-somethings, with all the attendant concerns of commitment or lack thereof from one partner, and the effect on said indecision when potential separation forever is thrown into the mix.

Gentle humour overall carries the film, even mixing subtly with strong dramatic moments but not to the detriment of the emotions being expressed – more like the way you’d make a joke to try and defuse a tense argument with your beloved.

This film presents solid acting all round but beautiful emotional versatility from Nicola Correia Damude in particular. Margarita is an independent film with an uncommon plotline – but I think that’s the beauty of independent work supported by industry sponsorship, as this one is: new ideas are allowed to thrive.

Margarita opens at the Female Eye Film Fest on June 20th, and screens at the Carlton Cinema beginning June 21.