Tuesday, May 21, 2013

# 79. Spanglish (2004)

Code-name: Language Barrier

Director: James L. Brooks
Type: drama, chick flick, coming-of-age

Flor Moreno- Paz Vega
Cristina Moreno- Shelby Brice
John Clasky- Adam Sandler
Deborah Clasky- Tea Leoni
Evelyn Wright- Cloris Leachman
Bernice Clasky- Sarah Steele
George Clasky- Ian Hylan

Notable nominations:
Golden Globe- Best Movie Score- Hans Zimmer


ample spoilers ahead to those who have yet to see "Spanglish"
You Have Been Warned

If memory serves me, this was another "in-flight" movie my dad suggested we rent.
I vaguely remember that it was a Blockbuster rental and we watched the extra on the DVD that showed us how to make Adam Sandler's po' boy sandwich, which we see him eat in one scene where the drama kinda overshadows the sandwich.
I believe it was, more or less, a BLT but with a fried egg on top that oozed out when he halved the sandwich with a knife.
Just thought that was a creative thing, it's not every day you see an extra on a DVD on how to make a sandwich.

I guess you could consider this among my guilty pleasure movies because there's this strange attraction I have to it, especially when it's been a while since I'd watched it.
A couple of years ago, I remember being at the computer on a Saturday morning going into the afternoon, it was around the time I was planning on rewatching "Confessions of a Shopaholic"... maybe "Spanglish" was on right after and I decided to watch it because, like I said, it's been a while.

By pure coincidence, it's another movie whose story is told through narrative. An interesting technique that I find caters to some people's tastes and to others, it doesn't. "The Great Gatsby" comes to mind because I read one review that didn't believe it was necessary to tell the story... as if there'd be an uprising by fans of the book if it wasn't there.

In "Spanglish," the voiceover is used sparingly, but it reminds us that this story is being told for a specific reason:
For her admissions essay to a Princeton scholarship committee, Cristina explains why her mother is the person she admires the most and is the most influential person in her life.
When her voice intrudes, it's to draw attention to specific scenes highlighting her "bullet points," and to make sure the audience understands why things work out the way they do on the off-chance they would be lost otherwise.

To that point, I must give kudos to how this film plays out because it's clever, different and handled extremely well.

Cristina and her mother Flor have gone through life with only each other to rely on. The father left the picture ages ago, and as a single mom, Flor does her best to make sure the two of them live a good life. Always true to her roots (one of her best qualities), Flor doesn't know a word of English but through her schooling, Cristina picks it up as a second language and helps serve as her interpreter.
When they come from Mexico to America, Flor becomes a housekeeper for the Clasky clan, lead by John (Adam Sandler in probably his best role EVER, truly affirming he can bring it as a dramatic actor), his wife Deborah (Tea Leoni), with their two kids Bernice & George and Deborah's mother Evelyn (a very funny Cloris Leachman).

For a while, we don't see John because he's the bread-winner of the house, working as the head chef of a local restaurant.
What we do see is that Evelyn always calls things as she sees them with a wicked sense of humor (one highlight from the trailers shows her with a glass of wine in hand, Deborah is ready to flip saying it's not even noon yet, and just like clockwork, you see the hands land on 12 o'clock), one of many lovable grandmothers in film.
And right away, we have a grave dislike for Deborah who has a very poor way of showing how much she cares for other people. There's always some kind of agenda involved and she's the only one who sees the good in it.

The first example of this is where she purchases clothes for her daughter Bernice, which she is thrilled about until she finds they don't fit. To which Deborah replies it'll give her incentive to lose a couple pounds.
One of many moments that begs the audience to scream at her through the TV.

A lot of drama unfolds throughout the movie and it can get heavy at times, particularly in the final scenes, but the majority of it involves Deborah.
Tea Leoni is painful to watch because when she's not being superficial, she's an insecure basketcase. You lose count when it comes to the number of scenes where she's either crying and/or her eyes and nose are red.

Those maternal instincts, derived from years of taking care of Cristina on her own, propel Flor to alter Bernice's clothes so they'll fit her... a very sweet gesture and the pay-off is huge when she convinces Bernice to try them on and she's thrilled.
The audience celebrates that victory right along with her.

Come summertime, the family moves to the summer home in Malibu for the season. Deborah learns (after picking a random neighbor who speaks Spanish) that Flor has a daughter to take care of and she can't pick up and leave her because of the job. Absolutely flabbergasted, seeing as this is a new discovery, Deborah insists she can take Cristina with her. Flor reluctantly agrees.

Not surprisingly, Deborah is so enamored by Cristina's beauty she takes her out for the day to really show her a good time, shopping, getting their hair done and so on...
Her intentions are good as she often believes they are, but I can't help but moan and groan when she does this, for 2 reasons:

1) she took her without Flor's permission... which opens the door for one of many misunderstandings that occur because of the language barrier... she leaves a note saying that she's "stealing [her] daughter" for a little bit, and Flor has no other response but to freak out when she translates it using a English-to-Spanish dictionary

2) we all know she's doing it because, unlike her own daughter, Cristina is beautiful and she wants to do all the things with her that she'd never do with Berenice.

There comes a point where the misunderstandings crop up and Flor finally breaks down and learns English. And she does so with audio and video tapes (according to IMDB, they are actual tapes of the "learning English as a second language" variety).
I'm intrigued as to whether or not the actress Paz Vega maintained any of that English because going into the movie, she knew none and the director (James L. Brooks) didn't know any Spanish, so they had a translator on set.
Taking all that into account, the movie came out extremely well and could be construed as art imitating life... actress and director learning to work with one another when neither of them know the other's native language.

Cristina adjusts extremely well to this new life, which comes with living at the house and going to the same private school as Bernice and George.
John's restaurant is booming thanks to rave reviews from food critics.
Deborah is spending a little more time away from the house, so the stress level of the dynamic comes down temporarily, but it shoots back up when we learn why (even though it's extremely obvious).

She'd been having an affair... the worst part is that she takes ZERO accountability for her actions when they're first discovered. Evelyn confronts her and she rebuffs her, bringing up her own history of promiscuity and "I am in this fix because of you"...
at this point, it's just better to let the moaning and groaning continue because there are not enough words to scream at the TV during this scene.

Evelyn is right about the fact Deborah should attempt to fix the situation because John is the best thing that ever happened to her and she'll never find anyone better.
Deborah at least confesses to the affair, but John does not take it well. He takes Flor to his restaurant where he cooks for her and they talk things out. Sexual tension is in the air and even though there is a magnetism there, Flor decides not to pursue it.

If there's one thing to respect about Flor, she really sticks to her principles because they're what make her as special and unique a character she is.
With things coming to a head between her and John in the previous scene, she decides the best thing for her and Cristina is to pack up and leave before things get out of hand and her position as simply the family housekeeper is comprised.

Cristina does not take this news well. Her reaction to, not only leaving the Clasky residence, but the private school as well, is what can be expected from any teenager-- she makes a big dramatic scene of it on the way to the buses in the middle of the street full of witnesses.

As pointed out by the narrative of college-bound Cristina, Flor then asks her an important question: "Is what you want for yourself to become someone very different than me?"
It's a very powerful moment where the two of them embrace and make up.

Cristina's conclusion to the admissions essay is as follows:
"I've been overwhelmed by your encouragement to apply to your university and your list of scholarships available to me. Though, as I hope this essay shows, your acceptance, while it would thrill me, will not define me. My identity rests firmly and happily on one fact: I am my mother's daughter."

[Final Thoughts]
When I first saw this movie, my reaction to how it ended had me scratching my head and wanting to scream, immediately siding with Cristina.
But in a couple year's time, looking at all the different pieces and perspectives of this story, I understand Flor's POV a lot better and agree, in the long run, she made the best decision for the two of them.

Overall, this movie has a little something for everyone, has so many different messages and layers to it, and it's just flat out amazing in the moments that really count.
I cannot sing its praises enough.

[Coming Soon]

(hopefully by the end of the week)... my theatrical review of "Star Trek Into Darkness"
taking all elements into account and putting my own biases aside (and let the record show I am, by no means, a Trekkie), it's probably the best movie I'd seen this year so far.

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