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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
THE BEGINNING OF A COMPLEX RELATIONSHIP: Deborah (Tea Leoni, center) introduces her husband John (Adam Sandler) to their new housekeeper Flor (Paz Vega), an illegal Mexican immigrant who has just arrived in Los Angeles.
end caption.

Spanglish: Class and Cross-Cultural Collisions Abound in Malibu Melodrama

Review by Kam Williams

Flor (Paz Vega) wants a chance at a better life for herself and her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce). So, they steal across the Mexican border and make their way to a Chicano barrio in Los Angeles. Since she is an illegal immigrant who speaks no English, Flor's employment opportunities are limited.

She ends up as a housekeeper for a dysfunctional couple; Deborah (Tea Leoni) and John Clasky (Adam Sandler). Deborah is a shrew and her hen-pecked husband is the head chef at a four-star restaurant.

The Claskys have two neurotic children. Teenage daughter Bernie (Sarah Steele) is concerned about her weight problem, due to the unrealistic demands of her mother. Younger brother Georgie (Ian Hyland) is an underachiever who has to be bribed by his father to get out of bed on school days. They live in a Bel Air mansion with Deborah's mother, Evelyn (Cloris Leachman), a washed-up jazz singer who soaks her regrets in alcohol.

Flor finds herself in this household unaware of the pitfalls of serving as a nanny for rich eccentrics. The job takes a toll on her relationship with her 12 year-old daughter. It is their mother-daughter dynamic that is at the heart of Spanglish, a taut, absorbing melodrama, despite its departures into sitcom style humor.

The picture was expertly crafted and directed by Academy Award-winner James L. Brooks whose screen credits include four Best Picture Oscar nominations for Terms of Endearment, Jerry Maguire, As Good As It Gets, and Broadcast News.

Spanglish deserves serious consideration because of its earnest exploration of tensions between different classes and cultures. Deborah, in contrast to Flor, has little respect for boundaries, expecting money to buy her anything, even the love of another woman's child.

It is easy to imagine the tensions which arise when she lavishes Cristina with attention and affection. The little girl's gushing "I think you're the most amazing white woman I've ever met," leaves Flor feeling threatened and Bernie neglected and rejected.

The plot thickens when the Claskys rent a summer home in Malibu and offer Flor a live-in position. A love triangle and further complications ensue on the way to a well-concealed resolution.

The film's effectiveness comes from Cristina's narration, which, in flashbacks, recounts her life story while applying for undergraduate admission to Princeton. Her message should resonate with audiences of any background, even though it reflects the thoughts of a young girl who is a poor, fatherless, Mexican immigrant.

The acting in Spanglish is superb, especially Ms. Leoni's portrayal of Deborah. Ms. Vega and Ms. Bruce deserve recognition for their performances.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual content. In English and Spanish without subtitles. Running time: 128 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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