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Movie Review

Spanglish

MPAA Rating: PG-13 some sexual content and brief language

Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults (not teens or kids)
Genre:
Comedy
Length:
1 hr. 51 min.
Year of Release:
2004
USA Release:
______
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Copyright, Columbia Pictures
Featuring: Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Ian Hyland
Director: James L. Brooks
Producer: Julie Ansell, James L. Brooks, Richard Sakai
Distributor: Columbia Pictures

“Every family has a hero.”

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Cultures collide as Flor (Paz Vega), a beautiful Mexican woman, and her twelve-year-old daughter move in with an affluent Los Angeles family (Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni and Cloris Leachman). Of all the horrors Flor imagined about this new culture, she never fathomed the peril of being truly embraced by an upscale American family.”

Review

“Parents need to spend time with their family. They need to love their children and communicate with them. The best prescription for families is to pray together, eat together and read the Bible together. It is a busy life today—but if we do this I think it’s the beginning of renewal in our nation.” —Pastor Raul Ries

How many of us really know how a different culture lives? The clothing, accent in speech or holiday customs do not make the culture. The way we create a moral base, a shared history and set of social rules which are instinctive are threads which remain complicated and unseen to the casual outside observer.

Each culture is distinct and intricate. A complex collection of inherent patterns that go far beyond mere customs. In order to understand another human being from a different cultural background, one does not just brush over the outside appearance and say they understand, but must give of themselves and truly concentrate on spending time in generous, open minded conversation. Live their life, feel their emotions, connect with and build upon a deep and mutual understanding.

Most of us wouldn’t or couldn’t take the time out of our busy schedules to embark on that type of bonding unless thrown into the situation as Flor, Cristina, and the Clasky family are in the sweet, poignant film, “Spanglish.”

Applications for acceptance into Princeton are being reviewed as we are invited into the childhood memories of Cristina. Her great admiration for her Mother, Flor, is the inspirational topic of her acceptance composition. Through narrative we are brought back in time to when Cristina (a lovely, captivating young actress, Shelbie Bruce) was 12 and living with her Mother in their native Mexico. It is a hard life for her Mom who has been abandoned by her husband. In an attempt to make a better life for her daughter, Flor decides to make the move across the boarder to America. Cristina notes that the barrios of Los Angeles were not only chosen because her Aunt lives there, but that it is the closest thing to their Latin roots at 48% Hispanic.

Flor (a most beautiful and gifted actress Paz Vega) spends six years there living with her cousin, working two and three jobs at a time, and passionately holding onto their Latino heritage for Cristina’s sake. But when she chaperons a school dance and sees a young boy dancing in a seductive way with her young daughter, she immediately makes the decision to move up to a better job, one job so she can be home and provide a more protected environment for Cristina.

Copyright, Columbia Pictures

Answering an ad for housekeeper to an affluent family, the strictly Spanish speaking Flor is accompanied by her English speaking cousin to be translator at the job interview. Fast talking super-mom Deborah Clasky (an uptight perfectly self absorbed Téa Leoni) is so impressed with Flor that she hires her on the spot. From this point on Flor’s Latin heritage is compromised more and more as she gives in to American values which do not mirror her own in any way. By officially crossing the cultural divide in search of a better life, Flor and Cristina get way more than they bargained for.

A former exec and temporarily jobless, Deborah is without an identity. She runs her home like a small business, bulldozing her too understanding husband John (a beautifully sensitive Adam Sandler), her two kids, and her former jazz singer, chronically drunk mother, Evelyn (Cloris Leachman’s performance is Oscar worthy), into seeing the world her way and her way exclusively.

Deb pushes her chubby young daughter, Bernie (a stunning performance by Sarah Steele), to lose weight by buying her new clothes that are too small. It is painfully obvious to everyone but Deb that she actually prefers Flor’s skinnier, prettier 12-year-old Cristina to her own daughter Bernie. Bernie is hurt but is brave and wise beyond her years to accept this as another passing attempt of her Mom’s to conquer and control. John is a world renowned chef who left a New York 4-star restaurant to start his own in L.A. He is working hard to keep “the heart” in his small restaurant and spend more time with his family which he obviously adores. He honestly tries to keep the peace within this varied and often overly demanding household.

John is the stabilizing force here, but is unraveling at the seams as his business becomes a success and his wife becomes literally uncontrollable. Flor sees it all, and even though there is a language barrier knows the heartache attached to this turbulent family. Flor comes to love the mellow, care worn Evelyn and tries hard to smooth the hurt Deb has put upon Bernie. This causes Deb’s competitive instincts to rage.

Deb comes to the conclusion that the whole family must rent a cottage in Malibu and spend the summer there, Flor included. Of course, no matter how everyone feels about this, Deb’s decision is not protested. Against all she holds as right, Flor and Cristina move in with the Clasky’s for the summer. To say that Flor experiences culture shock as she reacts to her new surroundings is one thing, but the Clasky family are experiencing the same type of thing while on there very own turf because of Flor. Flor reluctantly begins to study English. At the same time 12 year old Cristina is having a hard time identifying between these two worlds, both of which she desperately wants to inhabit.

The differences between their cultures magnify, but force them all to look at life and each other in a new light. John’s restaurant hits the top with a critically acclaimed 4-star rating, yet he says he has never been more unhappy. John wants not the recognition, but to keep it simple, to keep his life uncluttered. Deb arranges for Cristina to get a scholarship to Bernie’s prestigious school which causes a power struggle between Flor and Deb for control of Cristina’s future. This causes Cristina to wrestle with her desire for the education (not to mention the fun) but who also wants to please her mother by holding close to her Latin heritage. Evelyn stops drinking because she wants so much to help her daughter stop competing with everyone in her family and see what a wonderful life she has right in front of her.

As all this revolves around them, John finds himself drawn to Flor for her understanding and fierce determination to nurture and bring up her daughter to respect authority, wisdom, education and justice. His affection is not because Flor is beautiful, or because he also doesn’t want to hear his wife’s barking, but because he finds a common bond between them. A love for their children and the calm loving things in life we so often ignore or run over on our constant struggle to be at the top.

The cultural clash inevitably comes to a head with feelings, frustrations and commitments coming to the forefront. An unspoken understanding is reached with Flor finally quitting the job in order to protect Cristina from too much Americanization, and Flor’s budding feelings for John. Flor does the right thing, the noble thing which most of us would not do if in the same situation. Her responsibilities take priority over her own desires. It takes strength of character to move on, to do the right thing, which Flor does in the end because of love. Not just for Cristina, but for this strange American family she has experienced. A side of the culture for all of these souls that neither would have known without the simple ad for a housekeeper.

“Spanglish” ends on a bittersweet note with many life lessons learned without being preachy. It pays tribute to real life struggles between people in general, not exclusively from different cultural backgrounds, but as diverse human beings. Evelyn thanks Flor for never judging her. Deb learns to keep it simple. To admit she loves her sensitive husband and her not so perfect children for who they are. Bernie is able to tell her parents how deeply she loves them and needs that love in return. John thanks Flor for her strength and not taking any risks for the sake of her child. “God bless the guy who gets you,” he expresses as Flor leaves them behind.

Cristina is the last to come to grips with humility as she insists to her Mother, “Right now I need my space…” Flor pulls her close and tells her in no uncertain terms, “There will be no space between us!” What every parent should insist upon when making those hard choices for our kids. They don’t need space from us, but rather to be linked to the wisdom of those parents who have been there and know what the results will be. It is the responsibility of the parents to instruct their children. When we neglect our duties as parents in training our children in the way they should go, they are going to rebel. Not only against their parents, but their Christianity as well.

Problem areas

The PG-13 rating for “some sexual contents” is very misleading, for there is a scene in which the married couple have very graphic and realistic sex. The whole film makes you feel as though you are right there with this family, and this scene is no different. I believe it to be an adult film with adult themes, even though it is set in a span of time when the main character was 12 years old and learning true life lessons; it is mostly about the conflicts and problems between the adults. Therefore I would advise no one under age 17 to see this movie.

Foul language is at a minimum, but even a minimum can be offensive to most—even if it rolls out of the character’s mouths in a natural way. It includes “a**” once and “smart-a**” once, the Lord’s name taken in vain three times (which always makes me cringe) and the f-word once.

The husband was shown “cupping” the breast of his wife. The grandmother drank and although a sweet, affectionate character her drinking may be construed by youngsters as “normal” in her situation. After a one-sided fight, the husband yelled to the ceiling, “Great God in Heaven save me!” The husband and wife is shown almost nude together. The husband is shown drunk. When John’s character cooked a meal for Flor’s character, it was a bit sexually charged, although just one hint of a kiss came between these characters, it will be obvious they are falling in love. It is to the credit of Flor’s character that she put a halt to it explaining in broken English, “…else to be a sin.”

Positive aspects are a reference to a deep family faith (“we are Catholic”) from the Hispanic characters. Examples of sacrifice, hard work, humility, and faithfulness and commitment within the marriage. No one gave up on anyone. They all expressed love which in turn they relied on when the going got tough. Mercy and obedience to Scriptural concepts (1 Samuel 15:33, John 14:21) although not consciously intended by the writers were refreshing and should be easy to recognize. Trials and temptations will most assuredly come our way. Even as Christians we are not immune, it is how we handle these things using God’s Word that sets us apart from the culture of “The World.”

Director James L. Brooks has created a sensitive and real look at today’s way of life in the 21st Century. Often uncaring and distant, we are shown what toll it takes upon those we love when we are self absorbed slaves to perfection: physical, domestic, educational, and in the workplace. We aggressively pursue what we believe to be happiness in the material or praise of others when this pursuit is futile and does not lead to the true happiness only Jesus Christ can give. Parity now seems quaint, but in reality we all need our spouse, our family and the treasure of the wisdom of our parents and grandparents. So many have forgotten God and His perfect guidance that when someone shows these traits, as Flor’s character portrayed for this wayward family, we shun them as odd or antiquated. Let us not forget there are many cultural divides, not all are between countries, but some are right here within our own Christianity.

I really enjoyed this movie, looking at it in a adult way it hits home for many of our shortcomings as human beings. The actors were superb and absolutely believable. Cloris Leachman was outstanding. I would not classify this movie as a comedy, although it had many comedic scenes. It is more a dramatic study of our faults, our frailties and how we choose to deal with them. We also need to take a good, hard look at how we relate to others in this fast paced world.

We as Christians must remember we are the salt of the Earth and are commissioned to take the youth, the lost, those in need under our wing and can take a cue from the character of Flor. When people who are “different” come into the church and are not received with the love of Christ they are turned off. Much of the Christian community is out of touch with the youth. Young people have no motivation because they have no vision for their own personal life. They desire security but do not know how to obtain it. But it’s not their fault, I believe society has shaped this viewpoint. The church is not relating to them on their level. We have become too Christianized, with our church lingo and why of doing things. All cultures can be accepted at church. Lives will begin to change as Christ and His Word transform. God is doing a whole new work among all peoples today, especially through Christians that receive them with open arms in spite of their differences.

“Spanglish” reflects issues about class, race, success, parenting, ambition, pride, disappointment—This movie is about life. Mr. Brooks may not have intended to, but “Spanglish” on many levels mirrored the unconditional love and acceptance found in Jesus Christ.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Neutral—…a heart-tugging, 30-something, girlfriend type movie. It’s not a date movie, and definitely not for children or teens due to the intense adult themes and marital conflicts. I would suggest 18 and over only. As a Christian wife and mom, this is a tough one to review. On the one hand, the film gives you the usual Hollywood diet of crazed people, desiring worldly things, and seeking their own sense of happiness by whatever means presents itself. But there is something about this film that I cannot deny. It does a pretty good job of portraying what can happen when those desires begin to destroy everything. “Spanglish” took me, emotionally, to a couple of places that I’ve never experienced before; like utter betrayal.

But the best part of the film was Flor (the maid) and her moral compass that carries her through the story start to finish and ultimately redeems the film in the end. There are some great one-liners and a lot of laughs throughout, so it’s fairly balanced. Overall, it’s an o.k. film, with o.k. acting, and an o.k. storyline, but not for teens!
My Ratings: [Average/3]
—Diana O., age 35
Positive—I hesitated rating this “nothing offensive” but in the end decided simply to state that I mean “nothing offensive” with conditions. This movie has nothing offensive to me. This movie is one the most honest and real movies I have seen Hollywood come up with. I was nothing short of impressed. It deals with real emotions, real relationships between parents, employers, spouses, children. with nearly every angle of a relationship we could investigate, and at the end of the 2 hours you are not sitting there with these huge problems tied up and resolved, as with most Hollywood films. “Spanglish” is incredibly thought provoking, as well as being a film that offers insight into so many different scenarios… very beautifully done. I recommend this movie for late teens to adults.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
Misty Wagner, age 28
Positive—“Spanglish” is a tricky movie. It is good, yes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough in some areas, seems to linger a bit in others, and occasionally hits us with a perfect scene.

All of the acting is first-rate. Adam Sandler distances himself from his more childish characters here, even more so than in “Punch Drunk Love,” and he never seemed out of his element as a husband and a father. Téa Leoni finds a way to ground her spastic insanity into reality, which made her over-the-top moments strangely believable and natural. Paz Vega is remarkable and warm and beautiful as Flor, and yes, Cloris Leachman should get an Oscar nomination. As well, the two daughters were absolutely terrific, creating fully realized characters, who weren’t simply present in the movie, they were active and reactive. Look at Bernie’s subtle disappointment when her mother returns from taking Cristina shopping, but not her.

The film is well directed by James L. Brooks, but the writing, I think, is where the movie lost some power. Perhaps the movie just needed to be longer, perhaps a subplot or two needed to be excised, perhaps both. I didn’t feel enough of a connection between Sandler and Leoni. They connected fine in their scenes together, but there simply needed to be MORE scenes to establish this relationship, which, along with Flor’s relationships to each of them, form the film’s center.

But “Spanglish” still has a number of great moments. There is Flor’s outburst at Sandler’s father, with her daughter forced to translate between the two of them. And there is the confrontation between Sandler and Leoni toward the end of the film, which was difficult and honest and very powerful. Another surprise is that the lives are not wrapped up neatly by the end. Some difficult decisions are made, and not everyone is on board, particularly the children, one of whom is downright crushed.

The morals are in the right place as well. Yes, there is some language in the film, but much, much less than in most PG-13 films. There is a sex scene between a man and wife as well. What I am talking about, though are the film’s themes. We see how selfishness and carelessness begin to corrode a marriage and the pain that that causes for everyone, including the children. we see how parents must often make impossible decisions, knowing that this is what is best for their children, even when their children not only vehemently disagree, but also despise them for a time.

And yet, still, something seemed to be missing. All of the pieces were there, but some were too small, others too big, and the result, for me, was that while they all fit together, it was a bit forced and a bit rushed. It never quite reaches greatness. Still it is a solid film with strong performances, it’s very funny, and it’s kind of touching at times, too.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Jason Eaken, age 21
Negative—…My friends and I laughed at one or two scenes… The movie making quality should be about 3 stars… One of several reasons is that Téa Leoni’s character, Mrs. C, is very one-dimensional. Her constant high-strung, crazed antics become tiresome. The story line is cute, but too simple for a two hour movie. The movie appears to leave the door open for a sequel, because it does not provide a resolution to what will become of Mr. and Mrs. C’s marriage. Will Mr. C, who was unhappy with Mrs. C. throughout the movie, finally leave her after receiving news that she has cheated on him? Will Mr. C divorce his wife and explore his love relationship with Flor, after having discovered at the end of the movie that their love and attraction is mutual?

If there was such an option on the moral rating scale, I would rate this movie as “Somewhat Offensive”—because “Average” sounds too benign. The reason is that the movie’s main characters, Flor and Mr. Clasky (Adam Sandler) DO kiss and sensually flirt with one another, even though Mr. Clasky is married. The movie sets the scene to make the audience sympathize with the kiss because Mr. Clasky has just discovered that his wife has had an adulterous affair. However, the wife’s adultery does not lessen the fact that it is wrong for Mr. C and Flor to explore the beginning of an extramarital relationship, and the movie’s approval of the relationship may confuse teens, young adults, and some Christians.

Flor comforts Mr. Clasky, and the scene appears almost “innocent,” because Flor at first tries to resist, but later gives in and seems to justify it by saying that she loves him. It should also be noted that the grandmother’s heavy alcoholism is taken lightly and the subject of humor, and Adam Sandler’s character resorts to drunkenness as a way of coping with life’s stresses. However, both characters refrain from drinking at the end of the movie. I give this movie an overall “C” rating, an “Somewhat Offensive” moral rating, and a 3-Star quality rating.
My Ratings: [Average/3]
—Aline, age 31
Positive—I feel that this film had many good messages. It appears that this is going to be a light film, however as the story line progresses it gets more serious. The main points in this film are: staying close as a family and watching out for your children. I think it is definitely not for children to see, but if people can decifer what is right or wrong—then it is a good movie to see. Very little cussing, but some moral issues arise such as adultery and drinking. All and all, a good film.
My Ratings: [Good/4½]
—Amanda, age 19
Negative—I viewed this film with my family and came away feeling very dirty. The overall message of the film was good—the husband and house cleaner fought to not have an affair and the mother and daughter really tried to have a good relationship. But the film was just too much- one very graphic (not so visually graphic though…), violent sex scene which I guess was meant to show how twisted the mom was, crude humour, and the whole movie made the view want the husband to have an affair because the wife was “bad” and the housekeeper was “good.” Would not want anyone under the age of 16 to watch it.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Justin, age 21

Comments from young people
Negative—I didn’t enjoy this movie AT ALL. The whole time I sat in the theatre, I was confused, as were all the girls I went to see it with. It was funny at points, but I was bored thru most of the film. Flor’s decision to leave at the end was good, as was her relationship with Christina. But there was a lot of bad stuff in the movie too. A very graphic sex scene, Deb cheating on Jon, the whole restaurant scene with John and Flor, bad words, the grandmother being an alcoholic… I left the movie feeling guilty for watching it and dirty. I can’t believe I spent money to see this.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/2]
—Anon, age 15
Positive—Overall, great film! I really enjoyed it and would love to see it again. But keep in mind that it is rated PG-13 for a reason. Therefore, don’t take your nine-year olds to see it! There is a bit of swearing including one use of the “F” word, and there’s a scene between John and Deborah that I believe isn’t needed in order to make the movie a hit. I am, however, very impressed about the fact that John (Adam Sandler) and Flor (Paz Vega) keep their feelings for each other clean and moral,even PG worthy. It is really motivational and the message in the end is what makes this movie worth seeing, not to mention the incredible acting. The good in this movie outweighs the bad, but just be aware that there are a few situations that could keep this movie from being a family-friendly film.
My Ratings: [Average/4½]
—Emily, age 16
Movie Critics
…looks like a holiday hit for Sony… Very bueno…
—Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
…an unusually observant film marked by dry, acerbic humor…
—Joe Baltake, Sacramento Bee
…by and large, Spanglish is cloying gibberish…
—Nick Schager, Slant Magazine
…For more than two hours and without satisfaction, Brooks debates the virtue of acculturation, attempts to say something about modern-day serfdom and condemns hard-edged, starving American women. But “Spanglish” only resonates when he strips it all away and focuses on parent and child…
—Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune
…treats the subjects of class division, cultural misunderstanding and marital discord with astonishing smugness and dishonesty…
—A.O. Scott, New York Times