Author: Luis Alfaro & Fina Torres
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Writer’s Potential: 3
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Back at the Dominguez’s San Marino mansion, Gabriel’s attorney, KERENSKY (80s), reads Gabriel’s will. Gabriel has divided his assets evenly in thirds among his three children, which Mary declares unfair. Kerensky tells her not to worry — Gabriel is worse than broke, leaving behind a pile of debt his daughters couldn’t possibly afford. Gabe and Olivia, who have made their own fortune, offer to buy the mansion so the girls can avoid the embarrassment of declaring bankruptcy. Gabe offers to let them stay in the house until they get on their feet. The girls agree. Privately, Olivia calls her sister, LUCY, to dish about the great house she plans on flipping. She invites Lucy to a cocktail party, planning a love connection with her lawyer brother, EDWARD (20s). Edward arrives at the house. He meets Nora, who engages him in a debate about the merits of legalizing marijuana, which impresses Edward. Olivia takes Edward on a tour of the house, trash-talking both sisters along the way while trying to convince him Lucy’s great. Edward finds Lucy unimpressive. Olivia tries to convince Mary and Nora to move into the basement so she can redo their bedrooms. They try to argue, but Olivia insists that they own the house and everything in it, so what she says goes. Nora storms out, forcing Mary to go with her.
Mary gets more and more depressed as they drive from the glitz of San Marino into the rundown barrio of Boyle Heights. After Aurelia welcomes them into her modest home, neighborhood stud BRUNO (20s) tries to welcome them by moving Mary and Nora’s luggage into the house. Mary mistakes him for a homeless person. Inside, the house is full of life — in addition to the comadres (old women) Aurelia calls friends, she houses a group of illegal immigrants, who help her with an unofficial clothing business. That night, Nora pores over the history of the neighborhood, fascinated. Mary is paranoid, staring out the window, obsessed with the idea that gangs will break into the house. She and Nora reminisce about their father. Mary starts to relax when gunshots ring out, followed by police choppers. The next morning, Nora attempts to make breakfast but fails miserably. Aurelia is shocked by their lack of understanding of the world. She takes Nora and Mary for a walk around the neighborhood. Mary insults some gang “cholas”’ makeup; at a restaurant, Mary questions the fat content of the food; and back at home, Aurelia shows Mary her brand new car, an ancient Corolla. She’s humiliated. Suddenly, Edward pulls up in a moving van, filled with as much furniture and personal effects as he could fit. Nora is shocked but appreciative.
As Bruno helps Edward unload the van, Bruno can’t help but notice Mary reading a poetry book. It surprises and impresses him. Edward offers Nora a job as his assistant. Desperate for work and charmed by him, she accepts. That night, Bruno “steals” Mary’s car and has it refurbished. At least on the outside, it’s sparkling new. On the inside, Mary has trouble starting the engine in the morning. Bruno hears her struggling and tries to help. She barks at him not to steal anything. Meanwhile, Nora takes the bus to work. It’s populated mostly by a group of women heading for a job as a cleaning crew. One woman can’t stop crying. Nora discovers she’s been fired for allegedly stealing a mop, even though she only borrowed it for one evening. Nora is shocked and believes the employer acted illegally. Nora arrives at Edward’s law firm, where she’s treated shabbily by everyone (they all assume Edward hired her for eye candy). Mary wistfully passes Beverly Hills on her way to school. In her literature class, the professor relinquishes the floor to a handsome teaching assistant, RODRIGO (25), who describes a play with such passion and authority, Mary finds herself instantly smitten. After class, Mary borrows a friend’s car, which she intentionally toys with so it won’t start. She makes sure Rodrigo sees her struggling. He offers her a ride. She tells him she lives in Bel Air and has him drive to one of her friends’ houses. After talking long enough for Mary to learn Rodrigo is wealthy, Rodrigo asks Mary out. She agrees to go out with him.
Back at Aurelia’s house, Nora’s shocked to find Mary studying. Mary tells her about Rodrigo, and Nora disapproves. At the law firm, Nora tries to sell Edward on the idea of taking the cleaning ladies’ case, pro bono. Mary and Rodrigo have coffee and get better acquainted. Rodrigo asks her about her secret love, because in his mind, everybody has one. Mary tells him her secret love is her old house, which she vows to get back. Rodrigo is taken with her. They kiss. Mary tells Nora she’s intoxicated with Mexican culture and wants to learn Spanish. She also admits she’s following in love with Rodrigo. It’s about more than money now. Edward goes through the cleaning ladies’ case and tells Nora she’s afraid they’ll lose. The company has added the allegation that they’ve been cheating on timecards. Nora looks at the timecards and realizes they’re fake. Aurelia prepares for a party celebrating Mexican Independence Day. She tells Nora and Mary to invite their boyfriends, if they have them. Mary is preemptively mortified about telling Rodrigo she lives in a scuzzy house in Boyle Heights. Outside, Mary sees Bruno hammering together a bunch of junk. He bets her he can turn it into something beautiful. She agrees to dance with him if he does.
At the law firm, Edward — with Nora’s help — leads a parade of witnesses to testify to the hours the cleaning ladies’ worked, including their regular bus driver and the man in charge of ensuring the accuracy of their timecard machines. The lawyer gives up, and the cleaning ladies are ecstatic. Afterward, Nora invites Edward to Aurelia’s party. Mary brings Rodrigo to the party, admitting to him that she used to be rich but has lost everything. She’s embarrassed by the festivities, Aurelia, the neighborhood — everything. To her surprise, Rodrigo loves it. Bruno turns his “junk” into beautiful decorations for the party. While Rodrigo dances with Aurelia, Mary dances with Bruno. Meanwhile, Nora starts drinking. She’s a little tipsy by the time Edward shows up, but it allows her to let her guard down and admit some of her real feelings toward him. They kiss, and Edward confesses his love for her. Nora suddenly puts her guard back up, saying she’s devoted her life to helping others, and she can’t do that with a man in her life. Edward disagrees, which gets Nora angry. She shouts that he’s just getting in her way. Now angry himself, Edward leaves.
Edward meets Olivia, Gabe, and Lucy for dinner. He’s upset about Nora, but Olivia doesn’t care. Lucy, on the other hand, seizes the opportunity to capitalize on his vulnerability. When Nora returns to work, she discovers Edward has gone on vacation and transferred her to an office closer to home with better pay and benefits — but away from him. Nora’s stunned and distraught. Meanwhile, Rodrigo bids Mary a reluctant farewell before leaving for Mexico to visit his family. Mary tells Nora she’s moving in with Rodrigo when he returns, in two weeks. Nora doesn’t believe Mary’s really in love, but Mary’s convinced she is. They get into a fight about their respective definitions of love, which results in them not speaking to each other for two months — until an invitation from Olivia gets them talking again.
Olivia has invited them to Edward’s engagement party. Nora’s crushed. Mary realizes Nora has loved him all along, and Nora finally admits it. Mary tells him Edward’s clearly behaving rashly because he loves Nora but she rejected him. She gives Nora a makeover and drags her to the party to win Edward back. Awed by their beauty, Aurelia gives them each jewelry handed down from her own mother — Nora gets a necklace, Mary gets a pair of earrings. They drive Mary’s Corolla to their old house. The servants are thrilled to see them, but Gabe and Olivia are shocked. Edward catches sight of Nora and excuses himself from Lucy, his new fiancée. Nora apologizes to Edward. Embittered, Edward does not respond positively. Elsewhere, Mary catches sight of Rodrigo — and his wife! They’re at the party because they’ve decided to buy the Dominguez mansion. Mary’s so upset, she runs out into stormy weather and gets hit by a car. Nora goes after Mary and finds her. Mary is rushed to the hospital, where Aurelia and the whole neighborhood turn up in a show of support. When wheelchair-bound Mary is released from the hospital, she’s touched to see Bruno has built a colorful ramp for her at the house. Edward arrives with another moving van. Aurelia tells her there’s no more room. Edward has come for Nora — he bought the house across the street and called off his engagement. He proposes to Nora. Soon after, they’re married.
The first act races through some fairly important setup in order to get to the main story — how Mary and Nora deal with their sudden poverty. Fleeting scenes establish Mary as shallow and money-obsessed and Nora as focused and determined, but their father dies almost immediately, thrusting them into poorness. The writers may have taken a few moments to show the personality differences between the sisters, but they don’t add any dimension to the way they lead their lives as wealthy girls who have never worked. This is critical for understanding the difficulties of adjusting to their new lives.
As the second act introduces and develops love interests for Mary and Nora, the “culture clash” idea that starts the script gets shoved into the background, which is unfortunate because the writers try to create an impression that their exposure to “the other half” gradually makes them more open-minded. However, even by the time of the third-act “Mexican Independence” party, both Mary and Nora are still somewhat mortified by their living conditions and the people in the neighborhood. This is because their change doesn’t occur gradually. After remaining steadfastly unchanged for most of the script, two months pass during a quick montage, after which Nora is fluent in conversational Spanish and Mary is no longer ashamed of her clunker of a car.
The script’s attempt to mirror the plot of Sense and Sensibility may just be its undoing. It tries to remain faithful to the source material while, at the same time, making major changes to accommodate its contemporary setting. This leads to some strange plot developments — notably Edward’s sudden engagement to Lucy — and a significant number of romantic relationships that strain credulity.
The problem with the relationships stems from the generally poor character development throughout the script. Although the writers give both Mary and Nora a little bit of nuance, they always feel like constructs moving through a plot instead of relatable people. As mentioned, their characters lack arcs, so they don’t even develop into interesting, empathetic people. They simply act put-upon for most of the script, then suddenly (and offscreen) embrace their new lives.
Similarly, the relationships don’t develop. The romantic foils — Edward and Rodrigo — only reveal enough about themselves to seem like the perfect suitors for Nora and Mary. The script makes no effort to offer insight into their personalities or goals, which makes plot developments like Edward’s sudden engagement and Rodrigo’s secret wife seem bizarre and unearned. Bruno, the other romantic foil, simply waits in the wings until it’s his time to shine. Because of the way these characters have been crafted, the relationships lack tension except when artificially motivated by an occasionally inconceivable plot.
Had the writers developed the characters in more believable ways, perhaps the relationships wouldn’t be so dependent on sudden plot twists. Perhaps, in keeping with the alleged premise, as Mary and Nora gained more life experience in the barrio, they might each learn a something about themselves that makes them look at their relationships differently. The script tries to hint at ideas like this, notably when Nora attempts to apologize to Edward, but it falls flat because it never feels like a believable progression from one plot point to the next.
This script is simply too sloppy for any amount of quality acting or skillful filmmaking to save it.
Posted by D. B. Bates on November 2, 2009 11:16 PM