Thursday, May 05, 2005


My lovely wife and I really enjoyed Spanglish, though much of what I had read set us up to think it would be very average. Even Tea Leoni's infamous role was enjoyable in an excruciating way, being one of those brave, thankless, no one with vanity need apply kinda parts that so few actors can play, and don't get any credit when they do - usually because the character is so unlikeable it's hard not to transfer those feelings to the person portraying them.

The central story of film is the mutual culture shock when a wealthy Californian family hires a Mexican single mom as their nanny/maid. Mom (Tea) is, well, a psycho because she's sorta naturally built that way, but also because she's a high-powered business woman who's recently been laid off, and she's trying to deal with the mess of that while integrating with a family that she's never been around on a daily basis. Dad (Adam Sandler, who's a good actor dammit) is an all-around nice guy who tries to do his best by his family, his restaurant (he's a top chef who would prefer less adulation), and the hired help. Eldest daughter is a sweetheart who knows who she is, and is OK with being a little overweight, but is not OK with her mom making her feel like crap about it. The new nanny/maid is a good-hearted woman who wants the best for her daughter, and is faced with the nutball Mom sorta adopting her daughter because her own daughter takes after her Dad and not her.

Or, to put it simply, it's the story of how profoundly parents are influenced by their love for - or lack of love for - their children.

In further defense of Tea's role, I think she nails the particular psychosis that ensues when you've been laid off and are used to dealing with corporate sharks and not family members (it's like shifting gears from swinging a machete in the corporate jungle to making sandwiches with a butter knife). Or, to be more accurate, the script nails the condition, and Tea portrays it perfectly. Many reviewers were unsympathetic to her character because they dismissed her as just a psychobetty, which to some extent is true, but it's really exacerbated by her situation. She's like an alcoholic who finds herself holed up in a liquor store in a zombie movie; or Yosemite Sam who lights a match only to discover Bugs has locked him in the dynamite shed. Shite's just gonna happen.

I enjoyed this movie in the same way I enjoyed Terms of Endearment because both are beautifully crafted ensemble movies that are filled with real details on how most of us live our lives. Spanglish has the advantage, though, because no one dies of cancer, thus forcing us to watch a little boy trying to be brave when saying goodbye to his mother (a wonderful scene, but just a little too painful, if you ask me).

For the record, Adam Sandler is the new Steve Martin


DarkoV said...

On target. This movie is fabulous. I particularly enjoyed Tea Leoni, one of the most underrated actresses and, specifically, comedic actresses of our generation. After seeing the movie twice in theaters, we've Netflixed it and we'll probably end up buying it. Watching on dvd, we stopped and replayed the scene in the driveway where Cloris Leachmand and Leoni have "a talk". Leachman was superb. Leachman's line,
"You know, honey, lately your low self-esteem is just good common sense" has come in very handy in dealing with some of the intelligent but shallow folks lying about these days. Great script and Sandler was a surprise in self-containment.

Eric Brown said...

Personally, I'd say that Adam Sandler is the new Burt Reynolds - an amazing actor when competently directed, but capable of producing the most self-indulgent shite in the hands of a lesser director.

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