"Spanglish" Aims for Cultural Clash with Heartwarming Tale
- Thursday, December 16, 2004
His two main characters could be better. Clearly, Brooks wants to show us that Sandler is more than a sitcom comic, and to a certain extent, it works. I actually spotted a few endearing qualities, and very good acting at times, although Sandler is the most uneven performer in the cast. When John interacts with Bernice, he hits perfect notes. But when he learns of his wife’s affair, he seems lost. To be fair, Sandler is hampered by a very one-dimensional character – the perpetual Mr. Nice Guy – despite Flor’s witty observation that “he seemed to have the emotions of a Mexican woman.”
Also, I buy Deborah’s dysfunction, but I don’t see any resolution. “You were an alcoholic and a wildly promiscuous woman during my formative years,” she says to her mother. “I’m in this fix because of you!” to which the prosaic Evelyn replies, “You have a solid point, dear. And now those lessons are coming in handy for you, aren’t they?” Unfortunately, it does not appear that they do. Deborah comes to a reckoning and breaks up with her lover, but that choice appears to be more out of selfishness (her defining trait) than true repentance. And again, it is John’s near perfection that saves the day. One can’t help but wonder how much Brooks was influenced by his recent divorce.
His other characters, however, are insightfully drawn. Newcomer (to the U.S.) Vega is pitch-perfect in every way, and her beauty is highlighted by close-ups and flattering key lights. As a dirt-poor, super-fit, non-English-speaking, Mexican maid who wears the same sweater as wealthy Deborah, she is totally improbable, but just as likeable. So we play along, because Vega is so good. This film is hers, 100 percent, and she deserves every ounce of celebrity that is hurtling her way. On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore the stereotyping that Brooks engages in through Flor, who interacts and socializes with the Clansksys like a family member and does hardly any work. It’s a happy-clappy portrait that feels just like what it is – a nice story, written by a multi-millionaire, who hasn’t the first clue about what it really means to be an illegal immigrant that cleans toilets for a living in Beverly Hills.
Shelbie Bruce does a fantastic turn as Flor’s daughter Christina. When she translates both sides of an argument between her mother and John, perfectly mimicking each of their tones and gestures, she not only shines but gives the film its best moment. The other newcomer, Sarah Steele, does an equally impressive job as the big-hearted teen who struggles far more with her mother’s conditional love than she ever does with her weight. And, as the alcoholic mother who has learned from her own mistakes, Leachman gives yet another stand-out performance that should garner her an Oscar nod.
Despite its flaws, “Spanglish” nevertheless sends an important message about marriage. What the film tells us is that despite seemingly insurmountable hurdles, we do not have to give in to adultery. It’s almost as if Brooks is trying to say that, even though Flor and John fall “in love,” their relationship would never work. For that to happen, they would have to destroy an entire family. And while that is done every day, all over America, there are few who would say that it works, or that anyone lives happily ever after.
Aiming for a cultural clash, as the title promises, Brooks instead gives us a heartwarming tale – his specialty – with an important message. Muy bien.
AUDIENCE: Adults only
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Average–Heavy. Wine and beer drinking in several scenes throughout film; one alcoholic character who drinks throughout film, then announces that she has been sober for two weeks; another character regularly drinks beer and gets drunk once.
- Language/Profanity: Average. About a dozen obscenities (including one f---) and half a dozen profanities (mostly “Jesus!”).
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Average. Married couple embrace and begin to strip off clothes to make love, then have clothed sex, after which one has orgasm atop spouse; characters are tempted by adultery and kiss, but do not go further.
- Violence: Mild. Drunk character falls down; characters argue.
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