WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
After fleeing an abusive relationship, a young mother finds a job cleaning houses as she fights to provide for her child and build them a better future.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
At first glance, Maid sounds like quite a depressing drama - a young mother flees an emotionally abusive boyfriend and starts cleaning homes in an almost fruitless attempt to survive with zero support and resources. Yet, somehow, hiding within this brilliant Netflix miniseries is a dark yet sweet humour that reminds us of those living in poverty's oft-forgotten passions, dreams, and humanity.
Based on the memoirs of Stephanie Land - a prolific American writer whose lived experiences as a maid became a New York Times Best Seller - we follow a fictionalised version of the author - Alex - who refuses to give up on providing her daughter with a better life while the world continuously kicks her down. While American poverty pales horribly compared to South African poverty, there's still a commonality in her experiences that transcends borders. Even if you're someone who's never known what it's like to choose between food and bills, that 'unrelatability' will still hit you hard, negating the awful notion that some middle and upper-class people have that poor people 'don't work hard enough'.
But Maid isn't created to be a guilt trip - rather an education on life's hardships and how modern society is inherently built up for those with privileges - and it's not just in regards to money. Outside of the poverty angle, it also focuses on the invisibility of emotional domestic abuse and men's privilege in the system. Alex's boyfriend never hits her but breaks her down mentally through manipulation and isolates her financially. In one scene, he gets rid of her car, physically separating her further, where she finally has no means of earning an income or escaping the house. The worst part is when those close to her don't believe it's 'real' abuse - even herself for a while - and highlights what it takes to accept that this is happening to her and that she can do something about it.
While the men are generally all awful in this series - even the supposed nice guys - the women rally in various ways around Alex. For the most part, she is the hero in her own story, but she finds a support network in them, from her unpleasant OCD main client to her undiagnosed bipolar mother. Interestingly, Alex and her mother are played by real-life mother-daughter actors - Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) and veteran Andie MacDowell. Both are phenomenal in their roles, but especially Qualley.
Playing Alex is not an easy feat, and it would have been easy to sink into the depressing side of the story. Instead, she balances expertly between the comedic and dramatic moments with raw honesty in the character that's captured perfectly. So much of her acting takes place in her facial expressions, giving the audience a rare peek into the internal machinations of the character. This is perfectly complemented by her interactions with the sweetest girl who plays her three-year-old daughter. I honestly have no idea how they managed to get a performance from such a young child alongside what must have been some sprinkling of movie magic.
Maid eventually feels more like reading a book rather than watching a series, and I applaud not only the cast but the directing and production of this beautiful story for making intangible constructs so tangible. Throughout, we are shown her mental calculations whenever she makes and spends money, and you become as stressed as her about her financial situation. In another scene, she sinks into a depressive state, physically disappearing into her couch and experiencing life around her from a deep well. There are also fun moments where she keeps imagining a potential love interest without a shirt and as a cowboy after coming across some romance novels in a client's house. The show makes the metaphysical physical, the internal external, and truly is a masterclass in storytelling.
I was truly surprised by Maid - and by how much I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was steeling myself for 10 hours of feeling sad and discouraged about society and men, but somehow it left me invigorated and optimistic about the world. It is a hard journey to get there, and it might feel the world is built for only a few to succeed, but it proves there is still light to be found in the darkest places - and sometimes we have to create that light ourselves.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: