Making the Grades
Adam Sandler gets a chance to exhibit his more subtle acting talents in Spanglish, a contemplative movie that holds some great positive examples for adult viewers--but alas, a single scene will likely alienate the target audience for this otherwise impressive film.
The story is framed around divorcee Flor (Paz Vega) and her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce), who have come to Los Angeles from Mexico. After a few struggling years, Flor acquires a much better paying job as a domestic helper for the Clasky family.
Mild mannered John Clasky (Sandler), aside from fathering his young son and daughter, is busy operating an up and coming restaurant that does well enough to provide his family with a fashionable lifestyle. However, the renowned chef and his wife, Deb (T0xE9a Leoni), aren't reading off the same menu.
Suffering from a personality disorder ranging from manic to obsessive, the middle-aged woman fixates on her frequent jogging and her daughter's faults. Apparently feeling her best asset is her slim figure, she often reminds her slightly overweight daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele) that she is inadequate by dropping not-so-subtle hints--like buying her clothes that are one size too small.
Also in the Clasky family is Deb's mother Evelyn (Cloris Leachman). An alcoholic, she has cast her cares into a bottle, and is unable to make much sense of anything she observes.
With very limited English, Flor comes on the scene right about the time the Claskys decide to rent a summer home in Malibu. Reluctantly, the Spanish-speaking housemaid accepts Deb's demand to move in with the family--a decision she soon recognizes will have major consequences for herself and her daughter Cristina.
Writer/director James L. Brooks (Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda) has outdone himself with this excellently written script that spends most of its time observing how we fail to communicate--even if we can speak the same language. It also gives characters a rare chance to not take the easy way out, and to face up to responsibilities and commitments... no matter how difficult the consequences may be.
But there is a flaw in this diamond. In a scene that attempts to further round out Deb's selfish character, she meets her husband in their bedroom where she pulls off his clothes and hers. Then, while engaging in sex with her husband, she very vocally satisfies her own desires without any regard for her husband's sense of fulfillment.
Considering the conservative audiences most likely to appreciate this movie's themes of working to maintain your marriage and providing stability for your children, I'm certain this minute of film will be offensive to many. (At the screening I attended, I overheard several audience members making remarks of this nature.)
Filled with lines that are great motivational beacons on the importance of family, Spanglish is intelligent, captivating, and refreshingly different--especially for a film starring Sandler (although profanities are frequent). Yet, I am frustrated and disappointed this film's creators felt an orgasmic outburst was appropriate and necessary within the context of the story. Scenes like this still leave me feeling Hollywood is speaking a foreign language.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Spanglish.
In this movie, one character says to another, “There are mistakes you cannot risk when you have children.” How do children suffer differently than adults in a marriage breakup?
In various scenes, people make decisions (like not drinking alcohol) that prevent mistakes from happening that could destroy relationships. On the other hand, characters often put themselves in situations where they are alone with members of the opposite sex. In a marriage, what “rules” do you feel are important to follow in order to avoid the temptation of wanting to be with someone else more than your spouse?