Val (Regina Case) is a very busy domestic who works in modern day Sao Paulo for Dr. Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli), who inherited a fortune from his rich parents; his snooty wife Barbara (Karine Teles), a well-known figure in the fashion business; and their son Fabinho (Michel Joelsas). Val has served as a nanny for the boy and they are very close. This affection bothers his mother who has spent most of her time and energy on her career.
Val is at the beck and call of this class-conscious family and she accepts this exhausting and often humiliating role to prove her loyalty to them. She informs Barbara that her daughter Jessica (Camila Mardila) is visiting and needs a place to stay for a few days before she takes her university entrance exams. Although Val is thrilled to reconnect with her daughter whom she has not seen for 10 years, Jessica is not pleased with the idea of sleeping on a mattress on the floor near her mother's bed. When shown the empty guest room, this confident young woman takes Dr. Carlos's suggestion and moves in there.
Val is upset by Jessica's aggressiveness and attitude of entitlement but stifles these feelings. When Dr. Carlos discovers that this attractive and smart young woman wants to become an architect, he takes an interest in her, much to the dismay of his wife.
Writer and director Anna Muylaert has fashioned a complex and engaging morality play about class warfare and the challenges and disappointments of parenting. The mother-daughter reunion gets worse as time goes on. Jessica still resents that her mother left her alone with her father, whereas Val cannot understand her daughter's disregard of the rules set up by her employers.
Regina Chase as Val puts in a stellar performance as the domestic whose orderly life is rocked by the emotions and changes brought by her independent daughter into the place where she works. The Second Mother won the Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival and a Special Jury Prize for Acting (Regina Chase) at the Sundance Film Festival. The surprising finale gives fresh meaning to the ideal of family solidarity.