Thursday, July 19, 2007

Uno, dos, tres, cuatro cinco cinco seis

I expected Spanglish to be a cheesy romantic comedy, in the style of Fools Rush In. And there were definitely similarities, but for the most part Spanglish was a drama, not a comedy. I expected to dislike Spanglish, and instead I'm okay with it, despite its many shortcomings.

The plot isn't original. Adam Sandler isn't that great (he's kind of the same old same-old), but all the females were wonderful in their roles. Tea Leoni is superb as a neurotic suburban housewife, and so are Sarah Steele and Shelbie Bruce as, respectively, her daughter and the housekeeper's daughter. Cloris Leachman makes a great eccentric grandmother.

Again, the plot is terrible. Drop-dead gorgeous Mexican lady with bright young daughter gets job as housekeeper for couple with domestic problems. The two mothers in the film take to the other's daughter, in a touching but predictable role reversal. Flor, the housekeeper, encourages Bernice's self-esteem in a way that her mother doesn't; and Deb, the Tea Leoni character, treats Cristina, Flor's daughter, as the daughter she wished she had, going so far as to arrange a scholarship for her to a private school. And of course, Flor being the muy caliente stereotype of the passionate but demure Latina, there's the possibility of a thing between her and her Adam Sandler's all around good-guy prototype. The whole thing is narrated in Cristina's voice, as her entrance essay on her Princeton application. Because immigrant-child-makes-it-to-Ivy-league isn't already overdone.

The really unrealistic thing was how nice and unresentful and welcoming and understanding all the characters are. All the drama stems from the way the mothers treat their daughters and Adam Sandler; all the stuff that should cause more drama, like teen angst or sex or class differences or a language barrier, doesn't drive any huge part of the plot. Flor even miraculously learns English in like a month (i.e., once she moves out of the immigrant community and works really really hard to assimilate...)

Two scenes really stand out as insightful, though, mainly because they're so incredibly realistic. There's the scene in the beginning, where Deb can't pronounce Flor's name properly (she keeps saying "Floor.") And there's also the scene a few minutes in where Deb "surprises" her daughter Bernice by buying her a ton of new clothes that are several sizes too small, as an incentive for her to lose weight. However, these very true-to-life moments are brushed aside and not explored in any real depth. Because phew! After we roll our R's once, all significant cultural differences are out of the way, especially after Flor learns English. And the chubby girl, who "happens" to not do so well at school, can be ignored once the skinny girl, who "happens" to be smart, emerges. (For some odd reason, that scene made me want to foist Dan Savage's recent response to "BATL" on the whole world...)

Everything else about the movie was underwhelming, but those two scenes, along with the hilarious and endearing one where Cristina is translating an argument between her mother and Adam Sandler, are enough to redeem it for me.

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