He seems so cool, the bartender who reads Bukowski in his spare time, lives in a trailer and doesn’t care about anyone else. A precocious boy, who, like you, grew up with an unstable mother who required more care than she could give. Together against the world – you move in with him. Until you become pregnant and decide to keep the child; something inside him snaps, he races at you, his drinking becomes more and more worrying, and you’re stuck. Afraid and mother, without an income of his own.
Maid begins with a run: after yet another drunken tantrum, Alex (Margaret Qualley) tears away in the middle of the night from the trailer where Sean (Nick Robinson) is sleeping off his intoxication, with their two-year-old daughter Maddy in the back. Alex has $18 in her account, just a high school diploma, and she was “not abused,” she tells the social worker lady. Ironically, that makes her situation even more difficult.
What follows in ten episodes of a total of more than nine hours is a carefully constructed, excellently acted drama in which American society is delicately filleted. Alex can work as a maid (provided she pays for her own stuff and transport) and gain a glimpse into the lives of others, from wealthy lonely bitch Regina (Anika Noni Rose) to a friendly lesbian couple with a garden like a city park . Alex is an observer with secret writing ambitions, so the work itself suits her. She cleans like mad and scribbles her impressions in a notebook in the evening.
But a job isn’t everything – shelter, food and toddler care require more than the few tens of cash a day that the cleaning work yields. In addition, Sean demands joint custody of Maddy and their mutual friends rally behind him. Alex becomes entangled in a bureaucratic labyrinth of forms, identity papers and other proofs of her existence and trustworthiness – and anyone who thinks this only occurs in that far-off rugged America is not looking around hard enough. The beautiful, mobile face of former fashion model Qualley (1994) is an ideal canvas to unleash such a tough and frustrating process: her reactions never get old, her struggle becomes yours.
Maid is loosely based on a 2019 autobiographical bestseller (Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land), but was expanded, under the supervision of playwright Molly Smith Metzler, into a more universal tale of contemporary poverty and the long tentacles of abuse. Misbehavior like Sean’s comes from somewhere: bit by bit you learn more about his addicted mother and his aggressive stepfather. Alex herself also has the necessary baggage: one look at her mother Paula, an unstable hippie artist who flutters from one doomed relationship to the next, and you understand the chaos in which she grew up. “I’ve been taking care of her since I was six,” she says resignedly to a counselor.
The role of Paula is a triumph of Qualley’s own mother, Andie MacDowell – we know her as the understated beauty from Groundhog Day (1993) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), but here she lets go for the first time. For Paula’s madness, MacDowell drew on her own history with her bipolar mother, resulting in a heartbreaking character: totally unreliable, but very sweet at times.
Maid has a few downsides: the few moments of happiness tend to be sweet, the soundtrack often goes into whining. But there are countless moving scenes, dry jokes and a top cast – even the now five-year-old Rylea Nevaeh Whittet knows how to convince as Maddy.