Maria Full of Grace November 12, 2016
Maria isn't so good at making decisions. Seventeen and impulsive but dazzlingly street smart, she’s better at living in the moment, improving the moment, than looking further into the far more important unknowns of the future.
But who can say that they’re much different at an age where almost everything is at a crossroads?
For many, a series of potentially severe, but mostly innocent, mistakes are made that alter a person’s perception of themselves, maturing an inevitability. But Maria makes two detrimental false moves in a row that change the course of her life forever. First, without thinking remotely about the consequences, she gets knocked up by her impetuous boyfriend. Then, after making an inimical error at work, she promptly quits following her being humiliated by her boss (despite the fact that the income is vital in the supporting of her family).
Maybe she’d recover decently, if slowly, if finding an honest job were the first thing on her mind. But, alas, en route to a nearby town to try to look for something to help in the bringing home of the bacon, she’s approached by a drug trafficker who sees high possibility in her having success as a mule. Her pregnancy entails that customs agents cannot X-ray her no matter how much they’d like, and her desperation, combined with her youth, provides her with an enthusiastic vitality that reassures that backing out isn’t an option.
Preferring to exclusively ponder the positives of the slimy occupation as opposed to the agonizingly long list of negatives, Maria throws caution to the wind and heads down a path traveled by many young women as despairing as she is.
But because being in cahoots with real-life supervillains is never much favorable in the grand scheme of living a long, healthy life, she might come to regret her decision almost immediately if she had much else on her mind besides making the most of dire circumstances.
How harrowing it is to watch as a vivacious young thing risks throwing her life away for a cash cow that could help her (albeit obsequiously). But since Maria Full of Grace makes for a convincingly harrowing viewing experience, the ride up to its unexpectedly bittersweet conclusion is more nail-bitingly thrilling than outrightly depressing.
As Maria, Catalina Sandino Moreno, then 23, is so self-assured that we never find a second in which we doubt her, in which we’re persuaded that she might turn out to be a tragic heroine after all. So commanding of the screen is she that we're wont to believe that the movie is going to act like a coming-of-age film titan, not a morality tale about tainted youth. The movie’s too energetic, too alive, anyway, for us to decide that writer/director Joshua Marston is moving in the direction of cynicism and not in the direction of a winning portrayal of personal growth.
Not to suggest that Maria Full of Grace is an altogether glowingly inspiring feature. With one foot in realism’s door and another cemented in a floor covered in flagrant hope, it makes for an authentic look into the goings-on of the merciless drug trade. Like a documentary in its disfavor for cinematic romanticism, it doesn’t take any wrong turns in its characterization of the oftentimes savage business. That Maria survives her ordeal is a miracle.
With its promotional poster claiming that Maria Full of Grace was inspired by countless other true stories very much the same at their centers, we’re reminded that, while Maria is a leading character worth rooting for, undoubtable is the truth that innumerable other likable non-fictional protagonists perhaps went down the exact same path but ultimately came out with tragic results themselves. That ushers in emotional depth that gives the film an additional flavoring of urgency, and in effect does Maria Full of Grace become a wide-ranging, omnipresent