A couple, Juan Raúl Pérez and his wife Carmela, are separated by the Cuban Revolution when Juan Raúl is imprisoned for political reasons; Carmela and their daughter go into exile in Florida, along with some of Carmela's relatives.
In 1980, Juan Raúl is freed as part of the Mariel boatlift, and comes to Florida, hoping to find Carmela and resume their marriage. Carmela, after all those years, still hopes that Juan Raúl is among the people who came to the USA on the boatlift, and has her younger brother look for him. He is skeptical that Juan Raúl was freed and unenthusiastic about the search, and encourages her to hook up with a charismatic police officer.
In the meantime, Juan Raúl meets Dorita Pérez, a former prostitute and fellow Mariel boatlift refugee. The INS officials, because of their shared last name, mistakenly assume that they are a married couple. Juan Raúl and Dorita go along with the mistake, because the INS is giving priority to married couples.
Soon thereafter, Carmela's young brother runs into Juan Raúl, but both fail to recognize the other. Carmela loses hope of finding Juan Raúl, and starts accepting the police officer's advances. In the meantime, Juan Raúl and Dorita start getting it on.
After this, however, Juan Raúl and Carmela accidentally run into each other, and recognize the other. They are both overjoyed to finally have found each other, after so many years, and share a very touching scene about how their largest, most important hope of the last 20 years has finally come true. Then they amicably end their marriage, and continue with the partners that they just made.
This film provides examples of:
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Double Subverted. Juan Raúl and Carmela spend most of the movie failing to find each other, and then falling for somebody else. The next to last scene, their conversation after they find each other, is played so as to give the impression that they will resume their marriage. But then in the last scene, immediately thereafter, they continue their relationships with their new partners.
- Dramatic Irony: Neither Juan Raúl nor Carmela know if the other is even still alive. The audience does.
- I Will Wait for You: Subverted. Carmela spends 20 years waiting for Juan Raúl. Then she just stops.