‘Spanglish’ not pretty
Paz Vega’s presence notwithstanding, “Spanglish” isn’t pretty.Even though Vega and Téa Leoni star in a Malibu setting that features a palatial home, pretty beach house and chic restaurant making picture-perfect gourmet food, “Spanglish” gets really ugly. After all, it focuses on the things that make people fight – money, work, class, family, sex and – above all else – miscommunication.As many grimaces as those former five induce, it’s the latter that makes “Spanglish” frustrating and fulfilling at the same time. Other movies have certainly dumbed down language barriers and the word barrier between different languages for cheap laughs, and some – “Lost in Translation” comes to mind – convey how sad, funny and frustrating a failure to communicate can be. “Spanglish” continues in the vein of such James L. Brooks’ melanchomedies as “Terms of Endearment” and “As Good as it Gets,” but raises the ante with a powerful shot of class conflict and gringo guilt. Vega stars as Flor Moreno, an emigrant from Mexico who goes to work as a housekeeper for the Claskys, a wealthy chef and his wife (Adam Sandler and Leoni). (I’m wondering whether Hollywood has a shortage that forces directors to fill Mexican and Latina roles with Spanish actresses – first Penelope Cruz and now Vega. Maybe it’s not quite Orson Welles playing Othello in blackface, but I’m curious why.)The title comes from Flor’s attempt to penetrate the language barrier. First, she has her daughter, Cristina, translate, then she attempts to speak English phonetically – both of which provide most of the movie’s scant wince-free laughs.Even without language, though, other, more significant barriers spring up between Flor and the Claskys. One is the Claskys’ casual attitude toward their wealth. The most significant is the fact that Deborah Clasky (Leoni) is less of a person and more of a bundle of neurotic tics that becomes less tightly wrapped as “Spanglish” wears on. As bizarre and sometimes unwatchable as her role is, it’s impossible to ignore as she bulldozes the saner characters that people “Spanglish.” But what appealed to me was that “Spanglish” wasn’t a simple portrait of her descent into madness, affirmation of mother-daughter love, romantic comedy or dissection of an extramarital affair. Its ability to shift its focus evenhandedly among all the principal characters seemed like depth to me. I haven’t seen “Closer” yet, and “Spanglish” isn’t quite as raw as one critic described that film – as a bunch of very good-looking people doing horrible things to one another – but “Spanglish” is far less pleasant than the sweet family comedy the trailer advertises.Like Flor’s English, “Spanglish” might not be pretty. But it’s pretty good.
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