Review by Tom Swift
An ambitious daughter helps her mother become the strong, loving mother she never could be before.
This Brazilian comedy is really a feminist and class struggle drama that revolves around the question of how we love our children. Val is a middle aged maid and housekeeper who functions as the emotional center in the life of her employers’ son. The real mother, Barbara, is a celebrity and the father is an artist, trust fund baby. They live in a sumptuous Beverly Hills like house in San Paulo which feels very empty inside.
It’s hard not to imagine high flying American couples feeling a little twinge of guilt for how they might have relegated their childrens’ upbringing to hired help. Val is very close, perhaps too close, to the lost teenage son who’s struggling to make the grades to get into a good college.
Val, however, has a mysterious past that has forced her to have her daughter Jessica raised by her ex-husband and other relatives in a distant city. This parallelism of the too close, surrogate son and the too distant actual daughter illustrates the careful construction of this film. And such careful storytelling elevates this film into a wonderful character study of not only Val but the other characters as well.
Jessica has a secret of her own much like her mother’s. When Jessica arrives in San Paulo to take her college exams, Val gets the family to agree to let Jessica stay with them awhile. Soon, the father and son are lusting after Jessica. Mom gets very concerned and crashes her car to gain attention. But that doesn’t work, and it’s to the film’s credit that she gets her own emotional, upbeat ending.
But it’s Val resurgent passion for life that keeps everything interesting here. She’s not unhappy at the beginning, but it’s clear that issues involving Jessica hold her back. Jessica simply asks for respect and when she aces the college exams while the family’s son fails his, we see where her strength comes from. How Jessica’s success and failures liberate Val is indeed very touching.
Acting and technical credits are first rate. There sure handed direction. Go see this.