For the entire last month, the commercial for Spanglish has left me crying. Maybe it's this fucked-up family movie's proximity to Christmas, or that the hysterical mom reminds me of my own, or maybe it's just that the trailer is manipulatively edited, but I anticipated the film causing some serious waterworks. Strangely though, I didn't shed a tear.
That's because Spanglish, by writer/ director James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets) isn't much of a tearjerker. The film is more a slow-paced, meandering slice-of-life drama about a family in turmoil.
Téa Leoni plays the wife, Deborah Clasky, a self-centered neurotic who recently lost her job, and with it, all sense of self worth. The gorgeous Paz Vega plays Flor, her housekeeper, who is for some reason hired to clean and drive the kids around even though Mom isn't working. Adam Sandler, as John Clasky, is a world famous chef who keeps the family in expensive clothes and Escalades, but finds little satisfaction for himself. The film follows the interactions of all these people; interactions that are complicated by the fact that Flor doesn't speak a lick of English, and the Clasky family seems unable to communicate no matter what language they're speaking.
While the film really isn't all that profound, the enjoyment is in the subtleties. Characters are complicated, and unraveling them actually takes paying attention. John is generally malaised, even though he seems to have it all. Flor may have a sordid past, and Deborah's awful behavior could be a backlash against a shitty childhood, a plunge into low self-esteem--or both.
Spanglish distinguishes itself as a compelling film not by what it does do, but what it doesn't. By the end of the movie, problems remain undefined and unsolved and relationships are uncertain, which makes for a film you can relate to rather than one that leaves you in awe.