The first thing you need to know about Spanglish is that it is not a comedy; it is a drama with bits of humor spread throughout its two plus hours' running time. Adam Sandler is not the main focus of the film, nor is he the kind of boisterous character we are so used to seeing; he is, in fact, exceedingly mellow and serious here. Spanglish is really all about the boundaries of culture, economic standing, and social circles, centering on a Mexican mother who brings her daughter to America and spends several life-changing months working for a rich restaurant chef and his increasingly insane wife. This film has heart, and it has it in spades.
Paz Vega (who is, I have to say, absolutely gorgeous) plays Flor Moreno, a young mother who comes to America to give her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) the best life possible. Not knowing a word of English, she works two jobs to make ends meet - until she accepts a housekeeping job with the Clasky family. The Claskys are not exactly normal. The husband, John (Adam Sandler), is a wildly successful chef who always seems to be in sort of a fog, while the wife, Deborah (Tea Leoni), is a narcissistic woman with an ever-growing number of neuroses and an almost infinite capacity to annoy. Their daughter needs the kind of support that Deborah seems incapable of providing, while their son must have been put in the film as a favor to someone important because he serves no purpose whatsoever in the story. Cloris Leachman shines as Deborah's wise mother who has plenty of advice to give based on her own mistakes.
Things are going OK until the family rents a summer cottage on the beach, and Flor and Cristina move in. Suddenly, Cristina is given access to a world she has never known, and Deborah is particularly brazen about giving things to Cristina that Flor could never afford - even a scholarship to a swanky private school. John makes his own mistakes with Cristina and her mother, but he and Flor eventually develop what he might call a simpatico relationship. Deborah eventually becomes quite out of control, basically treating Cristina as her own daughter. Even as she is being isolated and alienated by Deborah, Flor begins drawing closer to John. Through it all, though, she makes all of her decisions based on her daughter's best interests.
I thought Spanglish was just an outstanding film. It may have gone a little far in terms of turning the audience completely against Deborah (Tea Leoni, I might add, seems to age about thirty years over the course of this film), but the central message of the film comes through loud and clear. You don't exactly close the book on these characters when the movie ends, as there is some ambiguity involved with the conclusion, but that seems quite fitting here. I thought Adam Sandler was terrific, but his casting for the role of John Clasky is a bit of a two-edged sword. Some Sandler fans will come to Spanglish expecting another extreme comedy and be surprised if not disappointed, while other viewers may turn away from the film because they assume it is another typical Sandler vehicle. I hope this movie continues to get the attention it deserves from all audiences, though, as it really is a wonderfully made film that tells an emotionally poignant story.