Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I just finished rewatching a video I have of the film, Spanglish. Directed by James L. Brooks (who directed As Good As It Gets), this movie stars Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega and Cloris Leachman, and all of them gave really excellent performances.
My son is an Adam Sandler fan, so we have seen just about all that man has ever made. His comedies, which span the continuum from graphically gross to side-splittingly hilarious, are not well known for being subtle or overly sensitive. But his performance in Spanglish is top rate, and totally believable. My respect for him as an actor deepened significantly after seeing this film.
Another surprise was Téa Leoni's contribution as Sandler's wife, who borders on psychotic at times, she is so driven. I've seen Leoni in a lot of films in the past, too, and have never seen her own a role more than this one. Her character was absolutely pitiful, which of course, was the whole point.
As I grew up on Mary Tyler Moore sitcoms, I saw a lot of Cloris Leachman on TV as a child. But she was usually in one kind of role, and not a very lovable one, I'm afraid. But in Spanglish (as Leoni's mom), you feel for her character while simultaneously admiring her. She's topnotch in this film.
The Spanish actress, Paz Vega, was the greatest discovery for me in this movie. She's a beauty along the lines of Penelope Cruz (I checked her biography and there wasn't any mention of them being relatives, although they could be cousins as far as I'm concerned), and hers was a very compelling performance.
The basic story is Paz and daughter emigrate from Mexico to LA and she begins to work for Adam and Téa's family. The wife is always interfering with Paz's daughter, undermining the strong values being taught by Paz. Téa's character is also alienating to her own daughter, particularly, despite her everpresent "good intentions." Adam's character is a top chef with a celebrated restaurant of his own, devoted to his kids and wife, in spite of her dysfunctional quirks, but a sense of discontent is increasing around the time Paz joins the family as household "help." Her inability to speak English doesn't distance her from the family; rather, her warmth and vitality as a person breaks the language barrier. Adam grows steadily attracted to her, and she to his sensitivity as a man (in direct contrast to the typical Mexican macho type). But this movie isn't as much about growing romantic feelings as it is about family relationships, and the boundaries set by responsibity to them.
This movie was meaningful to me on a personal note, as well. While raising my son in Japan, I often felt as though the trends of pop culture and crumbling family values evident in Japanese society were competing with the basic tenets of morality, faith and common sense I was trying to instill to my son. Just as Paz and her daughter spoke Spanish between them, my son and I spoke English at home and in public, to keep a sense of privacy. Whenever we went to the states, we spoke in Japanese, for the same purpose. Classmates had exorbitant allowances and the latest game software or gadgets frequently bought for them, which I had no intention of imitating with my son. People tend to indulge and spoil kids here, and I felt I was always fighting that. So I identified with Paz's character's position.
The film was made in 2004 and came out in theaters that December. The critics' response ran the gambit, but it made 46 million in the box office. As it didn't turn out to be Oscar-winning material, Spanglish didn't make as big a wave as it deserved, but this is a must-see, in my opinion, just the same. It's available on DVD, and I highly recommend you checking it out at your neighborhood rental shop.