For me, to watch Spanglish is to finally know a man’s perspective when his wife or girlfriend is on her period. Both characters played by Tea Leoni and Paz Vega seem to be constantly on the verge of a breakdown and are irrationally neurotic (over nothing) throughout most of the movie, each throwing fits of upset and then quickly sobbing. We’ve been led to believe all our lives that what women want to do is have a conversation, but in this movie you quickly see that women just want to talk, not listen. Meanwhile, Adam Sandler does a great job in acting like a real person and not a class clown. He comes off as a nice, adorable guy, full of humor and has strong sense of self.
The premise of Spanglish is that Paz Vega’s character moves from Mexico to America with her daughter and then has to cope with the language barrier and her overprotective tendencies with regard to her daughter. She gets a job as a housekeeper for a white, English-speaking family that appears perfect at first, but is later seen as flawed. The story is narrated by the daughter’s character in the form of her college application essay. First problem! The narrator, at the age of a junior or senior in high school, is never seen. Likewise, the daughter’s character at a younger age is barely seen in comparison to the mother’s and a lot of the events that happen are behind the daughter’s back even when she is there. I really don’t like the use of a minor character’s narration as the vehicle for the main story. It weakens the power the movie could have had if it were just a tale about family and raising your children. The only purpose I can see it really having is to set up that the character played by Vega is the main character. She’s the mom. That’s it. Otherwise, this narration is pointless.
Tea Leoni’s character, while she acts wonderfully in the film, sucks. She’s out of control, insecure, emotional, unpredictable, loud, needy, and we aren’t told why. I don’t buy that just because she’s a mom, trying to be a super-mom, she’d be like this. It’s not effective. It can be funny to see her flailing around, wild-eyed and babbling with inflection spurting everywhere, full of endless energy, but there has to be more to it than that for us to like her character. Her crazy, scattered side is too much for us to sympathize with her, but we’d be more than willing to laugh at her expense if we knew what she was so agitated about.
If you have kids, you can relate to some of the anxiety of the film. Likewise, there are several great lines that wouldn’t necessarily work out of the context of the situation, but there’s not enough strength in them to fill up the flatness of the movie or add to the pace of things. It was paralyzing to sit there through this only to become partially interested toward the end when it looked like Sandler’s married character might hook up with Vega’s character. But he’s married and this is a film about doing what’s right for your children. Did you guess the ending yet?
I was relieved that they picked some psuedo-dorky yet lovable children to play Leoni and Sandler’s kids, and all of the characters were excellent, well defined, and played wonderfully. Yet, when you put them in a room together to communicate, we don’t see any depth to them. They flop and move around, but they never seem to be reacting to each other, they just say their lines perfectly and wait for the chance to say the next line.
I’m not sure, maybe it was the language barrier, maybe it was the borderline overacting, maybe it was my sheer boredom, but aside from a few good moments, this is a fluff movie for a rainy day. They were trying to get across a message about parenting, about decency, about understanding, about human trials and triumph, but they came away with a story that lacks pulp. Sure they’ve added calcium for the bare bones of it, little tidbits of wisdom about family, but there’s nothing to get stuck in our teeth. If Spanglish exists to make us think about our family relationships, then I’m not so sure I should have spent over two hours away from mine to watch this movie.
The first thing you need to know about the disc is that you cannot watch it in Spanish or with Spanish subtitles. English, yes. French, yes. Spanish, no. I can partially see why this would be complicated and potentially destroy the dynamic of no one speaking the same language, but come on. With the title being Spanglish don’t you think some solely Spanish-speaking people would be intrigued and want to watch it? And if so, is it made in such a way that they could understand the story by not knowing English? Even the narrator speaks in English throughout the whole film. How likely is it any way that in America you’ll find someone that speaks Spanish and French, but not English?
The features on the disc include an audio commentary which is just okay. I really like the lightheartedness of James L. Brooks’ voice and hearing his perspective on the scenes knowing he also wrote the film. He obviously sees the characters as more three-dimensional than anyone else, which is good, but perhaps that puts him a little too close to the film to know that the viewers aren’t seeing the characters as fully.
There are additional scenes as well with an option to view them while listening to commentary. These extras help the film (if after watching it you still want to know more about the characters) and some of the scenes would have changed your perspective of a few of the characters so you can understand why they were pulled out for the final version. You can also watch some quick takes from casting sessions with audio commentary. These are all right, but nothing special. They don’t really show anything amazing about why they picked who they did and pretty much are just filler for the disc.
There’s also an “HBO First Look: The Making of Spanglish” which, while interesting, is just a tool to get us jazzed about watching the movie. Again, nothing amazing, but it’s entertaining enough.
Finally, to follow up on a scene where Adam Sandler makes a late night sandwich and just can’t get that first bite through all the female bickering, Thomas Keller shows how to make The World’s Best Sandwich. This thing actually looks really, really good. Keller shows Sandler, step by step how to make it and then it’s followed up by the recipe on the screen at the end. What’s sad is that aside from listening to the audio commentary, this is about the only other thing worth biting into on the whole disc.