Hollywood film legend Evelyn Hugo spends her life pursuing fame and fortune while trying to hold on to true love. Growing up a poor, motherless Cuban child in a world dominated by wealthy, white men, Evelyn learns early that her beauty and sexuality are a kind of currency, a currency she can use to gain power that is otherwise denied to her. Considering sexual advances from immoral men an inevitability of life, Evelyn thinks of sex as transactional when she is young and uses it to obtain the opportunities she needs to advance her career. Once she begins to be successful in Hollywood, she sells herself in increasingly complex ways. This includes living by a false name and presenting a fake life story to the public, dating and eventually marrying men for publicity, and savvily sculpting her public image to remain popular, sellable, and on top. She learns that in order to be successful in Hollywood, she must perform both on-screen and off. 

Love disrupts Evelyn’s meteoric rise in complicated ways. Her relationships with the men she loves romantically teach her crucial lessons about the heady mix of professional and romantic entanglement. Her abusive first love, Don, tarnishes Evelyn’s reputation in the press and intentionally stalls her career. From this, Evelyn learns the danger of losing control of the public narrative. In her second and last loving marriage to a man, Evelyn is heartbroken that Max is too entranced by her public persona to love her as a real person. Only Celia, whom Evelyn leaves both men for, truly loves Evelyn for the woman she is. In their relationship, Evelyn struggles to loosen her grip on fame and prioritize Celia. It is only in the last years of Celia’s life that Evelyn lets go of her ambition and finds true happiness in love and family. Evelyn is a fierce protector of her family in the final years of her life, as exemplified by her devotion to Celia, Harry, and Connor above all else. Further, her last act is to tell the real story of her life. She finally casts off the many personas she has created and worn for the public, and she reveals her true self.