Review: “Margarita” has a charming leading lady, slightly uneven plot

The new indie rom-com Margarita is a film with so much potential that it’s particularly frustrating to see it squandered. The compelling Nicola Correia Damude plays the film’s leading lady and namesake. When Damude is onscreen she’s utterly entrancing, even while riding her bike, pink-faced in the cold Toronto winter. Margarita is the longtime nanny to Mali, 14-year-old offspring of doctors Ben (Patrick McKenna) and Gail (Claire Lautier).  Over the years, Margarita’s role has expanded, while her paycheck has not. She cooks, cleans, tutors Mali (Maya Ritter), fixes the roof, and basically keeps everyone’s world running smoothly. However, when bad investments and too few patients cause Ben and Gail to fall deeply in debt, letting Margarita go is their financial solution.

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Margarita has some big problems of her own. She’s in love with Jane (Christine Horne), a commitment-phobic law student who is keeping their relationship a secret from her friends and family. Our heroine has also been living in Canada illegally for six years and the constant looking over her shoulder has worn on her. She works close to 80 hours a week, and even her days off are constantly interrupted by the family’s needs. The girl can’t even get her make out on in the hot tub without someone asking for her assistance.  Mali has grown overly attached to Margarita, who in many ways has become her main parental figure and cheerleader.

The film brings attention to the important yet often overlooked lives of the countless men and women who work and live illegally around the world. Certainly not solely an American issue, many countries have found themselves relying on the hard work and contributions of illegal immigrants. Something as simple as a visit to the ER or a traffic stop can ignite the deportation process, and Margarita is desperate to find a way to stay in this place she now calls home.

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If the film had focused more on Margarita and her story, it would have received a big ol’ gold star from me. However, much of the film centers around her slightly grating employers and the way Margarita fulfills and sustains order in their lives. Too many scenes feature these yuppie archetypes, bumbling and arguing their way through the film. It borders on being trope-y at times,  with Margarita acting as the magical unicorn that fixes all she touches, but whose own story lacks depth. Also I felt that the scenes with the smirky, dismissive Jane lacked chemistry and connection. Perhaps that is because there weren’t nearly enough of them for the actresses to find their groove with one another.

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There is certainly a lot to like about the film, especially the captivating Margarita. Her scenes with teenager Mali as well as her friend and admirer Carlos (Marco Grazzini) are a pleasure to watch.  Nicola Correia Damude is such a commanding presence that I hope too see much more of her in future projects.

It’s always refreshing to see a confident lesbian character, whose story has nothing to do with coming out or self-doubt. How wonderful that our cultural landscape is evolving to become a place where the sexuality of LGBT characters is just a lovely part of who they are, rather than the main focus.

Successfully straddling the line between heart and humor is actually rather challenging, which is why so many rom-com’s fall flat. In spite of some of its challenges, Margarita is a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes.  It will introduce you to the raven-haired, and totally crush-worthy Damude for starters, but the film also puts a face and name to an issue that many would rather sweep under the rug.

Margarita will available through Wolfe Video on October 29.

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