Spanglish – the movie
Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman
“I’m going to show you love in every language” is how one of the songs of the movies goes. It works. It certainly worked in Spanish. Listen to Juan Luis Guerra’s “Areito” and you’ll understand.
Spanglish is about the intersection of two languages, two cultures, English in America and Spanish from Mexico. A woman named Flor (Paz Vega escapes the servitude of Mexico and of a controlling husband to live free in the US, settling in the most populous Hispanic sector of the country – Los Angeles.
When she realizes that she needs $450 or so per week from ONE job instead of two (in order to keep a daily eye on her child as she matures), she seeks a job as a housemaid in a wealthy household. Enter the Clasky family headed by John (Adam Sandler and Deb (Tea Leoni. John and Deb are high school sweethearts, have been married maybe 15-20 years and have two kids. She is a chronically insecure person who seeks constant approval. In addition, her insecurity is exacerbated with the loss of her high profile job a short while back and the success of her husbands restaurant venture. All of it leads to family crisis as she begins to question not only her place in society but her place at home. Easy for her to blame it all on her alcoholic mother (played with deft skill by Cloris Leachman but she knows better.
Flor (Paz Vega) brings a sense of clarity, character, steadfastness, confidence and righteousness that matches that of John (Adam Sandler). They both know it and a bond between them grows throughout. There’s even the hint that if John did not have children, he would choose Flor over Deb. At this advanced stage in their lives, their values and clarity, sense of spirit link them inextricably. One gets the sense that even in their ultimate separation (the responsibility of 2 young children ultimately force John ad Deb back together), they will remain bonded – similar to the situation encountered by Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) and Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) in The Bridges of Madison County . The “responsibilities” of family, of children prevent their physical union. However, one gets the feeling that their souls will be intertwined throughout the ages, that perhaps in old age they may find each other again and live out their love for one another.
Adam Sandler does a fine job acting, is his funny self. I enjoyed his character because of the clarity of mind, sensibility and typical Sandler-warmth he brought. At times, he was inappropriately funny but twas a small price to pay for another masterpiece put forth by James Brooks.
Tea Leoni was marvelous as the insatiably neurotic wife.
Paz Vega, an actress I have not seen act until recently, was marvelous. She has mastered the hard skill of facial acting where one glimpse, one look would be equivalent to pages of scriptwriting. She is not fully fluent in English yet spoke enough English to make the movie work. She invoked in her character a sense of beauty, sexiness, confidence, vulnerability, unwavering love for her child (even at the expense of her own physical love), determination, empathy as well as the knack and guts for always doing the right thing. Forceful and honest in the way she rears her child, she also seeks advice for the rare times she does not know the answer.
Both John and Flor learn from the other, admit differences without ego yet celebrate the things they have in common with knowing and expectant love. She is beautiful and nicely featured. That is a bonus but should not be the reason she will be the next popular Spanish star in the US after Penelope Cruz.
Shelbie Bruce plays Cristina, Flor’s daughter. Since Shelbie is bilingual, she played a profound role in the comedy/drama. Her mother is certainly capable of conducting her duty without English fluency but Flor’s caring character is not passive. Where there are injustices and issues to raise in the Clasky family, she’s compelled to address them so Cristina translates for her. Incidentally, it is Cristina that navigates both English and Spanish perfectly yet it is Flor and John who navigate cultural differences with the ease of a Sushi chef. Shelbie (Cristina) was one of the biggest surprise comic figures in the movie because of how she translated – hilariously and perfectly mimicking each person for whom she translated. You must see this jewel acting piece to believe it.
Oh, one last tidbit: Cloris Leachman nails her role as the maternal grandmother – her comedic timing is perfect and she makes every moment count. Her repeating the English words with Flor to Flor’s Spanish videotape lesson is priceless.
Rent this movie.
Some great outtakes:
John (to Flor): my hand is the only same part of my body. Every other part wants to jump off a cliff.
Flor (to John): it’s something watching you (cook).
John: well, if it’s anything at your end, imagine over here
John (commenting on her looks): They should name a gender after you. Just looking at you doesn’t do it. Staring is the only way that makes any sense. And trying not to blink, so you don’t miss anything. And all of that, and you’re you.
Spanglish Premiere Pictures:
Spanglish Premier – LA – 12/04 – Paz Vega
– Relationship Dynamics –
John and Flor: common values that transcend cultural barriers, evident in her frequent questions of how a man like him has the empathy/ability to see things as she sees things, to put himself in her shoes. There is no translation barrier. Therein a bond is created. There is no work or struggle to co-exist. They are both clear in their thinking, present themselves as is and are unarmed egotistically. If they’re wrong, it’s admitted. They both give each other room to grow, reach, learn and in the end and along the way, a stronger love ensues. Something that he most likely never experienced with Deb, his wife.
The lesson most poignant for me in the relationship was when she got upset with John for giving her child Cristina $640 for gathering sea glass (vidrio del mar). It was a promise he made to all the kids but Cristina worked harder and longer, determined like her mother. Flor became upset that he gave her the money, asked for a meeting and ended up calling him an “ingreto” – a smug person. She was, of course, still reeling from that morning’s events when John’s wife, Deb, took Cristina shopping and to get her hair colored without asking Flor’s approval. One could sense that Flor felt that she was losing her child to the materialistic insecurities of Deb. John understood and relayed that to her. As if everything were settled, John countered by calling her a hypocrite saying Flor interfered as well by altering his daughters clothes so they would better fit. All good points. Everyone meant well. She did interfere and, don’t you know it, Flor admitted it. John was flabbergasted that someone would ever concede a point to him. He always was secure in his feelings but to have someone actually agree with him and see his side was wondrous. He, of course, was always wondrous in his capacity to empathize. She knew it and the basis of a loving relationship was gelled and set.
Do you think she ever remarried? My bet is “no.” She probably settled back into the Latino barrio in Los Angeles and considering her contempt for the Mexican macho never met a person like John again. Also telling are her words to her daughter … that the conversation she had with John in his restaurant the night before she formally quit her maid job was “the conversation of her life.”
John probably went on living with his wife, mostly for the sake of his kids. Oh, yes, he loved his wife but Flor was his true love…. someone only a few miles away yet really a world apart. Both were dedicated to their children and knew that to focus on their love ws to jeopardize their lives.
Mixing cultures would be fine. Their love, mentioned, transcended both cultures.
Watching the movie makes you want their relationship to work. You always root for true love. That’s why their separation takes a toll… witnessing true love go unrealized, at least in the physical. Loving each other apart would have to do.