‘Spanglish’ movie: Adam Sandler surprisingly effective in Hollywood exemplar of ‘dishonestidad’
Spanglish is writer-director James L. Brooks’ take on ethnocultural relations in the affluent sections of the American Southwest. An interesting idea that could result in an excellent movie comedy and/or drama, except that Brooks’ 2004 sitcom with fairy tale pretensions turns out to be a misfire on nearly all counts.
Spanish actress Paz Vega is the supermodel-looking undocumented Mexican immigrant who is hired as a maid at the home of a very rich and very dysfunctional American family headed by Adam Sandler and Téa Leoni.
Mexicans know best
Téa Leoni has her own brand of thespian charm, but as Spanglish‘s neurotic wife and mother she overacts to such an extent that it looks like she’s in a movie all by herself. Her unhappy, frustrated character is thus reduced to a pathetic and mean-spirited caricature of a “liberated woman” – one who has no understanding of the meaning of either personal freedom or personal responsibility.
Paz Vega’s Mexican immigrant, on the other hand, serves as a healthy contrast to the maladjusted Americans. A slave to the traditional mores of her country – at least according to Hollywood films that portray modern-day Mexico and Mexicans as if their sense of values were still stuck in the ’50s – Vega’s Spanglish-speaking maid turns out to be the wisest and most ethical of the film’s characters. And such a caliente Latin mama to boot.
Well, if that previous line sounds condescending it’s because it is. Spanglish pretends to be open minded about cultural differences and relations while reinforcing every old stereotype in the book.
Adam Sandler affecting, but Cloris Leachman steals show
On the positive side, Adam Sandler – who has become a movie star thanks to a series of braindead comedies pandering to the lowest-common-denominator crowd – comes across as a surprisingly likable, low-key romantic hero. For her part, veteran Oscar winner Cloris Leachman (replacing Anne Bancroft, who was forced to bow out due to illness) does an outstanding comedic turn as a dipsomaniac on the mend.*
Yet, despite Sandler’s and Leachman’s performances – and James L. Brooks’ boundless good intentions – Spanglish is ultimately no more than another example of Hollywood dishonestidad.
Dir. / Scr.: James L. Brooks.
Cast: Adam Sandler. Téa Leoni. Paz Vega. Cloris Leachman. Shelbie Bruce. Sarah Steele. Ian Hyland. Ricardo Molina. Eddy Martin. Thomas Haden Church. Aimee Garcia (narrator).
Late March ’05 addendum: The Spanglish DVD will be coming out via Columbia-TriStar on April 5.
Written and directed by Academy Award winner James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, 1983), Spanglish stars Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega, and veteran Cloris Leachman.
Brooks tends to write fairy tales (Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets) that have loads of self-consciously witty dialogue and equal amounts of blatant sentimentality. Generally well-regarded by critics and embraced by audiences – Spanglish was an exception to the rule – his films are also devoid of characters and situations that have any resemblance with the real world.
If that style of filmmaking is your cup of (sugary) tea, then Spanglish is the movie for you. This story about a dirt-poor (and oh-so-beautiful) Mexican immigrant who finds love and sociocultural chaos at the home of a wealthy and highly dysfunctional American family offers every cliché one could imagine – in both English and Spanish.
On the bright side, Adam Sandler acquits himself surprisingly well as the American husband who doesn’t need to understand Spanish to know when he’s in lust – er, love – with his supermodel housemaid.
But it’s Academy Award-winning veteran Cloris Leachman (Kiss Me Deadly, The Last Picture Show) who gives Spanglish its few laughs and its preciously rare moments of genuine pathos.
Below are a few of the Spanglish DVD features.
- Picture: Anamorphic widescreen - 1.85:1.
- Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1).
- Subtitles: English. French. (But not Spanish??)
- Closed captioning.
- Behind-the-scenes featurette.
- Deleted scenes.
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Images of Cloris Leachman; James L. Brooks directing Paz Vega and Adam Sandler in Spanglish: Columbia Pictures.
Spanglish movie cast information via the IMDb.