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Review: ‘Margarita’

Smart, Snappy, Sexy, And Did We Mention Lesbian And Undocumented?

Above: Margarita (Nicola Correia Damude) is a devoted nanny and undocumented immigrant from Mexico who has a difficult decision to make in "Margarita," a warm comedy from Canada.

— "Margarita" (screening as part of the San Diego Latino Film Festival that runs through Sunday) is about a smart, talented nanny living in Canada, loved by the family who employs her and in love with her law student girlfriend. But when a bike accident reveals her illegal status, Margarita receives four marriage proposals that would allow her stay in the country. Which one will she choose...if any?

On the surface of it, Margarita, a live-in Mexican nanny working in Toronto, has it pretty good: a great family who loves her, nice friends, several people who would love to have her share their lives and a Lesbian lover she wants to share hers. However, not everything is what it seems, even in the somewhat more evolved North.

Margarita’s cozy world soon starts to splinter when her employers, power-yuppies Gail (Claire Lautier) and Ben (Patrick McKenna) discover they are lurching towards insolvency, one ill-conceived decision at a time. Desperate to pare down, they fire the one person who stands between them, utter domestic chaos (Are you fixing the blender?), and the teenage daughter, Mali, who has started calling them by their first names out of frustration and contempt.

However, it is not until Margarita gets into a bike accident that her real situation is revealed. Illegally in Canada for more than six years, she now faces deportation. How she, Carlos, the Brazilian pool man who loves her, the family who adore her, and Jane, her law school lover who can’t quite commit, work this out is the subject of the warm-hearted, smartly written Canadian comedy, “Margarita” deftly directed by Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert, and screening again this week at the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Accompanied by a fabulous danceable soundtrack and lensed in generous, deep tones, "Margarita" is a smart, charming comedy with enough depth to keep you thinking after the lights come up. The actors, whose credits reside mainly in TV work, anchor their characters with a rounded sense of self that feels real and appealingly vulnerable at the same time.

Nicola Correia Damude, looking like a warmer Latina version of Lucy Lawless, plays the lushly realized Margarita, a funny, devoted, warm-hearted nanny whose work has expanded to keeping the family’s daily routine from collapsing like a house of cards. The fact that Margarita is a Latina Lesbian surfaces early and is then integrated as just one more personal detail about the film's compelling center. It’s a refreshing look at female-female dynamics and an unselfconscious addition to a story line that feels right and not melodramatic or showy.

The bigger issue here is really the dynamics of love, interdependence and residency- issues in which the gender one prefers is really peripheral.

As Margarita’s deportation day looms, Gail and Ben are forced to re-examine themselves and their dependence on Margarita -- the woman who tiled their kitchen and raised their daughter - while they were off trying to be better liberal working selves.

One of the best sections is when Mali (rising teen star Maya Ritter), named for the country her parents wanted to do aid work in, decides to shadow Margarita as part of take your daughter to work day. Margarita soon shows her that being a nanny isn’t just about making school lunches and helping with homework, but an ever expanding set of responsibilities (“I make like about $1 hour after all this”), to keep the lives of Mali’s clueless (“You’re illegal?”), but generous parents running smoothly.

Somewhat predictably, Gail and Ben rise to the occasion, taking care of Margarita as she convalesces and trying to figure out a way to keep her in the country.

However, it is the final plan that gives the comedy its delicious, final spin. This being Canada, the first non-European country to legalize same-sex marriage, Margarita receives not one but four proposals of marriage.

The one she chooses may surprise you.

Companion viewing:" Finn's Girl", "The Visitor" and "Moscow On The Hudson."

Check the San Diego Latino Film Festival website for showtimes.

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