Inside Out 2012: ‘Margarita’ is a potent cocktail of heart, humour, and humanity

Margarita

Directed by Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert

Written by Margaret Webb and Laurie Colbert

Canada, 2012

In the Canadian dramatic comedy, Margarita, the titular character (Nicola Correia-Damude) is a Mexican maid, illegally working in Canada for a posh couple, Ben and Gail (Patrick McKenna, Claire Lautier) and their tenacious teenage daughter, Mali (Maya Ritter). A mainstay in the household for years, Margarita has become a staple in the family.

Already overwhelmed in a tumultuous relationship with her girlfriend Jane (Christine Horne), Margarita’s problems are compounded when Ben and Gail, swamped with debt and liberal guilt, are forced to fire her.

As Margarita struggles to put her life back into perspective, both she and the family she works for start to realize the gravity of the situation, resulting in a potent cocktail of heart, humour, and humanity.

Whereas films like The Help use domestics as a device to elucidate issues of race, class, and gender, Margarita is a more focused effort, choosing to highlight their often overlooked parental duties.

This is done with conviction by making Margarita into what Spike Lee might call a ‘magical, mystical Latina’. To put it simply, she’s perfect. She cleans, she cooks, she tutors. She seems to do everything and with perfection. Not only that, she is the one moral compass in the film, handing out hard-hitting truisms to a family desperately in need of some.

She is an invaluable member of the family, and much of the comedy, and dramatic tension, comes from Ben and Gail walking on egg shells to avoid discussing her termination.

As a sort of surrogate parent, her importance in the family dynamic helps highlight the deficiencies in modern, ‘well-to-do’ households, pushing the message that goods, and the overly obsessive pursuit of them, can be detrimental for a cohesive family.

But as perfect as Margarita is, she is never one dimensional, with the film taking great pains to present her as a real, fleshed out person. Not only are the characters funny in their own haphazard, bungling ways, but they have a certain charm to them, making us care for their respective arcs and collective fates.

We grow to care for Margarita as much as Ben, Gail and Mali do, and it’s hard not to be wrapped into the emotion of the story. With grounded and sardonic performances, especially by McKenna and Correia-Damude, and a perfect pH balance of drama and humour, Margarita resonates far beyond the small confines of a single household.

– Justin Li

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