April 22, 2015
By Mike Hale
With the competition growing fierce to find new subjects for a seemingly limitless procession of documentaries, Andrea Meller’s “Now en Español” offers a window onto an offbeat and intriguing scene. Ms. Meller, following five actresses who did Spanish-language dubbing for the ABC series “Desperate Housewives,” reveals a demimonde of mostly immigrant artists, some stars in their home countries, living subsistence-suburban lives around Los Angeles and doing whatever they can to keep a Hollywood dream alive. Within a profession defined by hardship, they struggle even more tenaciously than most.
“Now en Español,” showing on Friday as part of PBS’s “Voces” series of Latino-themed documentaries, is a patchy work depicting events from more than five years ago, but it proves that if you hang around long enough with a camera, interesting things — even extraordinary things — can happen. Midway through, the camera captures a middle-aged actress as she answers the doorbell and tearfully accepts a sheaf of papers: her eviction notice.
Most of the stories don’t contain such bleak moments, but the initially bouncy tone grows significantly darker and more melancholy. Ms. Meller, who perhaps didn’t trust her material sufficiently or perhaps wanted to put a lighter spin on it, implements various intrusive and superfluous strategies. Her worst idea is to set up a parallel between the story lines of “Desperate Housewives” and the actual lives she’s documenting, filming embarrassing scenes in which her subjects re-enact tableaus from the show. But the women are so vibrant and likable that their stories transcend Ms. Meller’s meddling.
Each exhibits a different mix of realism, cynicism, optimism and delusion, and all of them assess their situations pungently. Ivette Gonzalez, a Mexican stage and telenovela veteran who moved to America and dubbed Eva Longoria’s character in “Desperate Housewives,” sits in her living room and proudly and defiantly sums up her Hollywood life: “I have my house, and my kids eat, and I’m wearing this blouse and these shoes. And everything.”
Source: New York Times