Sometimes a film or series comes seemingly out of left field. No big hype or ad campaign. Not a ton of star power. And yet it captures the attention of millions. Limited series Maid, which is available on Netflix, came out of the heart, mind and life of Stephanie Land. It was her memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive that inspired Mollie Smith Letzer to make something out of it. She felt it was a story that people had to know about and would immediately connect with, even if Alex’s life was nothing like theirs. Those of us lucky enough to not exist in a world of mental illness, abusive relationships, homelessness, and low income jobs need to see stories like Alex/Stephanie’s. We need to face the fact that there are people (usually women) out there going through this right now and that could easily stop if we provided women who are in abusive relationships places to go and if we fought for living wages for all jobs. Sometimes difficult situations have relatively simple solutions. We just have to have the will to make them happen.
Over the course of ten episodes, we get acquainted with the trials and tribulations of the life of young mother, Alex (Margaret Qualley – Fosse/Verdon, My Salinger Year). She, her boyfriend Sean (Nick Robinson – Jurassic World, Love, Simon) and their young daughter live in a trailer park. Alex, who, though she was accepted to a college never went, does not work, so she is the primary caregiver of Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet). Right away, even the most casual of observers can recognize how good a mother Alex is and how much she loves her child. The relationship she has with Sean is more problematic, however. He works as a bartender and drinks too much. When he drinks his behaviour becomes erratic. He does not hit Alex but things get thrown and verbal abuse happens. For the most part, Alex remains passive and just cleans up his messes.
On a night where he comes home drunk again and this time punches a hole in the trailer wall right by Alex’s head, she has had enough. Waiting until he has passed out drunk, Alex gets dressed and gets Maddy out of bed. She packs them and a few of her belongings into the car and drives off. She is determined to give Maddy a more stable upbringing than what she herself had as she is the daughter of a woman (Andie MacDowell – Four Weddings and a Funeral, Groundhog Day) with mental health issues who refuses medication or treatment of any kind.
Because she has not really worked and has no education above high school, it is hard for Alex to find a job to support herself and her daughter. Plus because she was not technically abused there are precious few places where she can turn to for housing. Alex has to struggle with earning money, finding housing, raising Maddy on her own, a legal battle for the custody of her daughter, dealing with her mother’s erratic behaviour, and trying to deal with her alcoholic ex. During this whole struggle, Alex dreams of becoming a writer.
Being that this is a rather sensitive subject it really has to be treated properly by all those involved – cast, crew, etc. Its success comes about because this is exactly what occurs. No part of the story is treated lightly. You really almost viscerally feel Alex’s struggles. One after the other. Margaret Qualley, who was pretty much an unknown entity to me before this series, gives a rather layered performance as Alex. Alex is an interesting character in that she is not your typical young woman. You see the effects of the multiple traumas she has been through since childhood. They have really marked her and that shows up in her behaviour.
Some parts are really difficult to watch. Your heart breaks time and time again for Alex. You wonder what the effect of all of this is going to have on young Maddy. Despite being “hard” you never even think about not continuing to watch because it is so good. Even with all the hard times and even darkness, there are moments of light and even laughs which you can revel in briefly.
Stories like this are vital. We need more of them. Especially if they are of this type of depth and quality.