Spanglish

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SPANGLISH, from 2004, remains, as of 2019, Adam Sandler’s best movie. Some have been moderately funny, most grueling, with Punch Drunk Love drawing the best reviews (from 2002, it’s his 2nd-best, to date). He’s good in this comedy, but the reason it’s his best film is that it was written & directed by a master-crafter of perceptive characterizations, James L. Brooks, sports a nakedly open comic performance from Tea Leoni and an enchanting one from Paz Vega, Spain’s one-stop test for heart health.

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Mexican immigrant and single mother ‘Flor Moreno’ (Vega) goes to work as nanny for a  quite-well-off Anglo family in their posh L.A. mansion. ‘John Clasky’ (Sandler) is a nationally recognized chef, wife ‘Deborah’ an ex-businesswoman. The well-off part is just financial, as the couple’s marriage seems precarious, with John habitually caving in to Deborah’s constantly manifesting neuroses, and her hurtful needling of sweet-but-plain daughter ‘Bernice’ (Sarah Steele). Gregarious grandmother ‘Evelyn’ (Cloris Leachman) is too friendly with the liquor cabinet. Despite speaking no English at first, Flor’s sweetness and common sense have an effect on the household that both shakes it up and stabilizes it, but she faces a dilemma when her daughter ‘Cristina’ (Shelbie Bruce) is seduced by the lifestyle and the attentions of pushy Deborah. A crash course in clashing values and culture collision. With a lot of laughs and, thankfully, just the right measure of heart.

Lately, your low self-esteem is just good common sense.”

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Sandler reins in his tendency to cartoon a character; it’s his most agreeable performance. Leachman adds another winner to her gallery of scene-stealers. The kids are bright and real; Steele’s sweet & hurting Bernice is especially keen. Leoni’s nervous wreck of oblivious self-involvement is like a cram-class in hysteria; she has one of the all–time hilarious orgasm scenes, joining ranks with O-listers Shirley MacLaine (Being There), Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) and Meg Ryan (When Harry Met Sally).

Best of all is luminous Paz Vega, her wonderful ‘Flor’ anchoring the family’s rocking boat with her steadiness, pluck and decency, and completely capturing the audience with her warm beauty, range of expression and innate charm. 28 at the time, she’d been popular for years on TV series in Spain and won acclaim for the 2001 feature Sex And Lucia, but was unknown to wider audiences until she made her US debut here. Like her character, Vega did not speak English when the film began, using an interpreter on the set, and like Flor, learned some as she went along. Every guy I know who’s seen this movie fell in love with her.

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Reviews praised the acting, though many felt the script’s focus was spread too diffuse: the 131-minute visit worked for me, and I would not have been bothered to spend more time with Flor. For whatever reasons, the $80,000,000 production failed to make headway at the box-office, with a take of just $55,000,000. Granted, writer-director Brooks takes a safe bite into the ever-cooking Anglo-Hispanic recipe, an insular Holly-lib set-up what with the fractured, driven Anglo family working out their issues in the plush safety of Beverly Hills and Malibu, the wife a poster child for Therapy as a Way of Life, and Flor practically a model for The Madonna (no, not the singer). Last time I checked, my maid and gardener never showed up–ever, and statistically it’s within reason that not everyone with a pretty face and an accent is a walking Fountain of Truth.

But it’s a gentle comedy, after all, not a challenging docu-drama, and the shared humor bridge is one of the surest ways to navigate chasms of ignorance that too often divide us from what could be real treasure.  Ola, Flor: ¿Cómo estás? 

Also featuring Cecilia Suárez and Thomas Haden Church. Plus, it’s a staple that rom-coms have soundtracks that follow the bouncing ball of cuteness: the musical backing here by Hans Zimmer accentuates the humor and the pathos without cloying up the works. Well done. spanglish-lg

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