December 24 - January 6, 2004 • Vol. 24 - No. 52

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Spanglish—Sometimes You Don’t Need to
Understand the Language to Get the Picture

by The Maven and The Blonde
Film Columnists

James L. Brooks’ pleasing drama/comedy Spanglish grapples with issues that face many people who cross national borders, including difficulties finding work, the language barrier, and acclimating to a new culture. The entire story is told in flashback via a college admissions letter written by Cristina, portrayed by the very talented newcomer Shelbie Bruce. Cristina is explaining why her mother is her hero, and so we are introduced to Flor (which she insists that you pronounce it FLORRRRRRR), played by Paz Vega (from Spain) in her first American film. Flor, a housekeeper and nanny, wants to stay uninvolved with her employers and their private lives, but finds herself drawn into the dysfunctional drama of the Clasky household. The head of the family John, played by Adam Sandler (Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates), is a four-star, award-winning chef who is reluctant to interfere with his wife's duties as a full-time mother. Deborah Clasky, portrayed by Téa Leoni (Family Man and married to hottie David Duchovny) is an unaffectionate mother who is wound tighter than a knot and about to untangle emotionally due to her insecurities and lack of a career focus. In walks Flor, who doesn't speak English and is everything Deborah is not. She is warm, compassionate, and exotically beautiful, with a gorgeous, thin, intelligent daughter. Ultimately, Spanglish is about two culturally different families living together, who discover that knowing where you belong is more valuable than assimilating could ever be.
The Blonde: Spanglish was like Maid in Manhattan meets Frida meets Sabrina meets Mommy Dearest meets Turning Point. I loved this film. It was original, as its story angle has never been told in that way before. It reminds us all that language can be less of a barrier than the heart can be. I must inform the men that if you are conned into seeing Spanglish thinking that it is a typical funny Adam Sandler movie, Spanglish truly is a 'chick flick' and you will probably be bored. That could be a good thing though, because now your lady WILL OWE YOU! The actress Paz Vega was stunningly beautiful. She reminded me of a cross between Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek. Her character, Flor, displayed the rare combination of sexy, strong, moral, honorable, intelligent, loving, determined and proud. I've seen these qualities in the Blonde and the Maven, but it's so rare in a Hollywood script.

The Maven: First of all, how in the world do you relate Frida to this film?

The Blonde: SHE'S SPANISH?

The Maven: Oh dear, that's a stretch at best, even for the Blonde! I've waited several years for James Brooks to come out with another good movie. Terms of Endearment and As Good As it Gets are two of my favorites, and Spanglish will be added to the list. He has a way with entertaining conversation that allows you to get to know the characters with words as well as awkward stretches of silence. In this film, as in all his others, Brooks proves he's a humanist as well as a humorist.

The Blonde: The story, the dialogue and the breakdown of the characters were exquisitely well written. You will find yourself feeling for each one of the characters and long for their happiness. The acting was brilliant as well. Every single actor deserves an award. Each one had their moment to shine; THEY DID and brightly. The title was perfect as well. I loved the line Flor said to her daughter: “You get one tear to cry, so make it a good one.” I can't wait to use that on my little girl. She'll look at me like I came from another planet.

The Maven: Then you should be used to that look BY ME! Adam Sandler does drama as well as he does comedy. He brought emotional depth to the character of John. Téa took on a real challenge with this role. Her character was all over the emotional map and Téa played her beautifully. This film definitely belongs to Paz Vega. She was amazing. Penelope Cruz, WATCH OUT!  You have some real competition on your hands. I have to mention Sarah Steele, who played Bernice Closky, a slightly overweight, heart of gold teenager, who is delicious to watch. The fractured relationship between her mother and herself was so heart-wrenching to watch. How can a parent be so clueless to a child's good qualities and only focus on what she perceives as a negative?  

The Blonde: Well, for that answer, we would have to consult with Joan Crawford. By the way, is Sarah Steele Remmington Steele's daughter? I was happy to see Cloris Leachman (Alex and Emma) have the opportunity to play such a wonderful role, and she did it superbly. She had the line of the movie when she said to her daughter, “Lately your low self-esteem is just good common sense.” As for Adam Sandler, he always plays the “sweetest guy in the world.” It's funny, I don't want him to get type-cast, yet I wouldn't accept him as the bad guy. The two young daughters, played by Shelbie Bruce and Sarah Steele, brought in HOME-RUN performances. You could feel their emotions of joy and pain pouring right off the screen. Unfortunately, we mothers get enough of that stuff at home, especially when our kids hit puberty. By the way Maven, when do the Martians who take our ONCE perfect, now13-year-old, hormone raging, monster, kids and return them home to us as their old, sweet, wonderful, loving, normal selves? I hope I'm alive to see it!

The Maven: Yours were taken away? Stop your complaining. You are SO lucky!  They never took mine. I got passed over. I guess I live too far west in Boca. I'm still struggling with it daily. Remmington Steele is a fictional television character played by Pierce Brosnan, you BLONDE! I too was happy to see Cloris. What a terrific performance she put in as Evelyn, Deborah's mother. A small role was spotlighted by one of my favorite actresses. Not since Phyllis on “Mary Tyler Moore” has Cloris been given such a juicy tidbit to portray. I would love to see more of her in the future. In fact, I think this film would be a terrific sitcom. Anyone at NBC looking to fill the empty time-slot since “Friends” should take notice.

The Blonde: It’s always enjoyable seeing Téa Leoni in a film, but I gotta tell ya, if you need a role model for the most over-the-top insensitive, selfish mother and wife, then Deborah Clasky is your gal. Watching the way she treated everyone involved, especially her daughter, simply broke my heart. Ya know Maven, she reminded me of all our friends’ mothers growing up.

The Maven: You mean MY MOTHER, don't you?

The Blonde: Well, her or Joan Crawford.  I was trying to be discreet.                    

The Maven:  Why start now?  

The Blonde: You're right! So why are you still using WIRE HANGERS?

The Maven: Because it still makes her angry!  In closing, obviously I enjoyed this movie as did my 16-year-old daughter. I rate it an A for absolute joy.                                         

The Blonde: Spanglish was overwhelmingly realistic in an unrealistic way. This film seemed so painfully real at times that I felt as though I were spying on the personal lives of these people. I have enough trouble spying on my own family. Furthermore, I was blown away by the brilliant writing that included serious situations with a flare of comedy. The interaction among the colorful characters as well as the deep situations concerning the triangle of characters were poetic and intriguing to watch. I rate Spanglish a B+. Now for snacks, it might be a good idea to skip them all together as the holidays are approaching and you might want to save the calories for later.

The Blonde and the Maven: To all our readers, WE WISH YOU A VERY HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON AND A WONDERFUL AND HEALTHY NEW YEAR! THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING TO US FOR YOUR MOVIE ADVICE!! See you next year with a bucket of popcorn!

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