Mark Terry

Friday, July 20, 2007

Confession Time--Spanglish

July 20, 2007

I have a confession to make, one that is no particular secret to my family, but might be mildly surprising to people who have read my books which are, to say the least, chock full of action, suspense and violence. I'm fairly fond of what can be safely dubbed "chick flicks," particularly of the romantic comedy variety. Some of my favorites are "While You Were Sleeping," and "You've Got Mail" and "Michael" and "Sleepless in Seattle."

About a week ago, my next-door neighbors were having a graduation party and it was running on a bit late, complete with DJ and karaoke. It was clear there was no point in even trying to go to sleep until they called it a night. My wife was watching the Tigers but I channel surfed and came up with the film "Spanglish" with Adam Sandler, Tia Leoni, Cloris Leachman and Paz Vega (in the photograph; more about her later). Unfortunately, I missed the beginning and it was running late, so I missed the ending as well.

I was interested enough to queu it up on NetFlix and I watched it straight through this week.

First, this is written and directed by James L. Brooks, probably best known for "Broadcast News." I mention that one specifically because of certain similarities between the two movies.

Okay, plot synopsis: Paz Vega plays a Mexican immigrant (Fleur or perhaps Flor) with a daughter she is raising alone in the LA area and she speaks no English. She decideds she needs a better job, so she ends up working as a maid with Adam Sandler's family [At first I thought she was played by a younger, prettier (if that's possible) Salma Hayak. Vega is apparently a very successful actress in Spain, and man, talk about a face that could launch a thousand ships.] Sandler's a high-level chef (this is one of Sandler's amazingly fantastic roles. I'm not a fan of his comedies, but he's pitch-perfect in this role) and his wife, played by Tia Leoni is a manic-depressive, PC, narcissistic mess. They have two kids, a daughter and a son, and Sandler's mother-in-law (played eloquently by Cloris Leachman) lives with them, is an ex-jazz singer and functional alcoholic.

One of our neighbors, a divorced woman raising her son while living in her mother's house, told my wife, "Oh yes, I've seen it. I hated that movie."

Yeah, that doesn't surprise me. In Roger Ebert's review of "Spanglish" he commented that the Tia Leoni character, despite her numerous neuroses, was still lovable. (Debatable). He also said he doubted anyone was that messed up. (Ha! say I. Roger don't get out much. This character reminded me of three specific women, two of whom are related to me in some fashion. I can safely say, "Roger, I'd be glad to introduce you. It would be an education.") In some ways this movie is like a mirror you hold up to your own life. Who are you in it? Are you Sandler's daughter, who can't seem to please her mother no matter what she does? Are you Sandler, who loves his wife but doesn't know why and feels cut adrift from the things that are most important to him? Are you Flor, who is just trying to stay out of the fray and raise her daughter in the way you want to?

Although there are amusing moments, it's not a particularly funny movie and I wouldn't call it a romantic comedy. In fact, I don't know what the hell it is.

From a writing point of view I wanted to mention the ending. It reminded me of "Broadcast News" in that it doesn't resolve the way you think it's going to. And it's this lack of resolution that prevents it from being a romantic comedy. There's a kind of bitter, fascinating scene toward the end of "Spanglish" where Tia Leoni is having her meltdown (which she caused) and whines at Sandler, "Are you really that much nicer than me?" To which Sandler's character mutters, "Well, you didn't set the bar very high."

The movie builds you up in a certain way, then spins it at the end, and I think people going for a specific romantic comedy ending came away disappointed. In a way I was very disappointed--shouldn't Sandler get the girl, divorce his psycho bitch of a wife, open a restaurant with Flor and live happily ever after with his children? On the other hand, who's the focus of the film? It wasn't Sandler. It was Flor. And although she seemed to be in love with the man Sandler played, in many ways the film was about how she struggled to not become a full-fledged part of American culture, how, as her daughter who narrates the movie says at the beginning, "My mother would be my Mexico."

Anyway, it's a film that I imagine will stay with me for quite some time, for the characters, for what it doesn't do, and for what it does do. I guess that's as good a definition of art as any.


Mark Terry


Blogger spyscribbler said...

Oh wow! I just watched that last weekend while killing time in my hotel room waiting for an appointment. So cool!

It made me cry. If Christian fiction hadn't taken the term 'inspirational,' I'd call it inspirational drama.

One of the best movies I've seen in a long time.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Inspirational in what way? (I'm just curious).

10:56 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Great, now I'm commenting on my own comments. I could save time and just talk to myself.

One of the interesting things about talking about this movie if you really do need context to understand how certain lines have such an impact.

For instance, I'm still mulling over: "You don't need to worry about Bernie. Nothing will change that heart of hers."

For a parent that line is a kick in the gut, trust me.

And: "My mother would later say it was the greatest conversation of her life." Or perhaps the line was: "My mother later told me it was the great conversation of her life."

Either way, in the context of that film, it's almost heartbreaking.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband and I both adore LOVE, ACTUALLY (British movie) and IN HER SHOES (based on the book). I think you might like them too.

4:12 PM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Well, I loved that the two main characters chose their principles over their desire. (Not that I'm saying their principles were right or wrong, just that they were their principles, and they chose to follow them when it was hard and it hurt.)

Then the daughter chose her mother, and later even chose to admire and respect her mother for her choices. I just found it inspirational, for some reason. :-)

About kids, I think the movie's right. I don't have any of my own, so what can I say? But I've been lucky to watch at least twenty go from little bits to high-schoolers, and probably about two or three hundred go for one - ten years in between that.

Honestly, they don't change much. Sure, their behavior may change a little, and they go through those gawd-awful hormonal stages, but at age 4 and 18, they have the same personality.

It's really quite amazing. The babies I've met that later grew to take lessons? Same thing.

6:13 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

'She would be my Mexico.' As a foreigner living far from home, each time I think of that line, it destroys me inside. I come apart at the seams and unravel quietly and spectacularly because take Mexico out and replace it with my own country, that is me. For years, I've heard 'Home is where Mom is...' but never could relate. Now, I just have to pick up the phone and call Mom and her voice, her laughter and her gentle rebukes about poor diet and little sleep - turn me into a child, put me in our home, under a tree on a Summer afternoon, sipping spicy chai, munching on spicier pakoras, all hot and flushed, but full and content. I love this movie. Oh, you are absolutely right. The movie is about Flor and her struggle to remain true to herself, her culture and her country - unassimilated yet relevant for her daughter and her future. Not an easy task. But, in giving up Clasky, she sacrifices the comfort of love and the thrill of romance. But, they are a small price to pay. She would rather live without love than her daughter live without 'Her Mexico.'

12:59 AM  

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