Sunday, April 03, 2005


I admire filmmakers who manage to explore powerful relationships and character development in a tight two hours, and Spanglish falls into this category perfectly.

As the name goes, "Spanglish" is a combination of two words - Spanish and English, and is one of the major themes covered in this film, which is the clash of cultures, and the fear of dilution of cultural values. Paz Vega plays mexican (illegal) immigrant housekeeper Flor, to an All American family, Mr and Mrs Clasky, played by Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni. They have 2 children Bernice and Georgie, and live with Tea's mother in a rich suburb. All seems well at first, but cracks start to appear as the story develops, as Paz discovers during the course of her work. The father is self deprecating as he is easy going, the mother is neurotic most times and imposes her wishes on the children (especially the chubby daughter, whom she thinks must lose weight), the daughter upset with her mum for that expectation of her, a son who sings his grandmother's jazz oldies, and an alcoholic grandmother.

A large part of the narrative takes place during the summer home, with major character development and relationships take over as the centerstage in this film. It is natural that the interactions between the characters develop from what it was in the beginning, to what it is at the end. Some turn for the better, while others just couldn't be. The importance of family and family values are explored. I will attempt to dissect the major relationships:

John and Deborah Clasky: As husband and wife, it seems that their relationship isn't that good to begin with. With his easy going nature, John tends to give in to Deborah on a lot of things. Deborah expects her husband to not be the "good guy" to the kids, but to be in agreement with her on issues she deems as important and in her opinion, correct for the kids. Their relationship gets put to the test when one of the commits adultery, while the other is unwittingly being tempted into his own.

John and Flor: As employer employee, they develop mutual respect for one another when they realize that they share similar values. To communicate with John, she takes up self-study English lessons, and their friendship progressed to mutual liking. They share the same parental anxiety and have frequent honest conversation expressing their thoughts. However, they develop feelings for each other, and find difficulty on where to draw the line between their ever increasing desire to be close. When the line is crossed, do you call it quits because it's the correct thing to do? The last 30 minutes of the film is tinged with sweetness from this blossoming romance which couldn't develop further by virtue of principles. You are left wondering, what if?

Deborah and Cristina, Flor's daughter: When Deborah entices and unwittingly seduces Cristina into the all american lifestyle, so much so as even lying to her mum. Deborah is taken to Cristina because she is what her daughter could probably never be - smart, thin and beautiful. Cristina, on the other hand, enjoys Deboarh's company and attention because, hey, it's the American Dream, no?

Flor and Cristina: The movie is narrated by Cristina, from the time when she was little and her father walks out of the home, the hardships that mother and daughter endured through their journey to the USA, and her understanding of her mother's hardship with work to bring her up singlehandedly. Flor is understandably protective of her daughter's wellbeing, and especially in teacher her correct values and her heritage. She becomes jealous when Deborah, in her eyes, start to become more important to her daughter, and sometimes envious of the material wealth that Deborah showers on Cristina that Flor can never ever provide for. Flor fears that her child will be "hijacked" by Deborah.

Deborah and her daughter Bernice: Her daughter at times resents the attention that her mum is giving Cristina, as she knows that she could never be thin as expected by mum. She has fears of comparisons.

Bernice and Flor: Flor starts off as work being strictly work, and no intervention into the family affairs. But she felt compelled to help when Bernice feels upset when Deborah subconsciously puts her down, most of the time subtle digs at her weight. Flor becomes Bernice's confidante in that sense, and John points out to her the hypocritical ways in which she disallows Deborah to treat her own daughter Cristina in similar ways. That scene between John, Flor and Cristina is comedic at times, but powerful nonetheless.

Other relationships too long for this review to cover, and also they are quite minor, but at the end of the show, most relationships stay intact because blood runs thicker than water.

The main casts excelled in their performance, but I like to single out Adam Sandler. He has demonstrated that he is capable and comfortable doing drama, instead of the madcap comedic characters we associate him with. I hope he does films of different genres to highlight his capability as a serious actor. Also catching my attention in a cameo is Sideways' Thomas Haden Church.

This is a touching drama with an ending that some might deem as heartwrenching, but I highly recommend this film.

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