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Movie review

In any language, a touching tale

Published December 20, 2004

[Columbia Pictures]
From left, Paz Vega, Tea Leoni and Adam Sandler star in Spanglish.

Billy Norris
Read the reviews by Xpress Film Critic Billy Norris


Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content and brief language.

Summary: Flor (Paz Vega) is a Mexican woman who has immigrated to the United States in search of a better life for her daughter and herself. She finds work as a housekeeper for a wealthy Los Angeles family. John Clasky (Adam Sandler) is a levelheaded, world-class chef; his wife, Deborah (Tea Leoni), is an insecure stay-at-home mom; their daughter, Bernice (Sarah Steele), is a self-conscious yet caring person; younger brother Georgie (Ian Hyland) is the most low maintenance family member; and grandma Evelyn (Cloris Leachman) is a wise former jazz singer who likes to drink. Between the struggles of the language barrier (Flor speaks only Spanish), her daughter Cristina's (Shelbie Bruce) adolescence, and the internal strife of the Clasky family, Flor's immersion into American life is not easy.

My view: I was very pleased with the way this film came off. The story was told through Cristina's Princeton University application essay about the most influential person in her life (which was being read by someone in the admissions office). That creative measure gave the movie a great sense of sincerity and earnestness. The realistic family struggles that were portrayed were integral to the plot: mother-daughter conflicts, the self-image problems of teenagers, interfamily struggles for attention. They all kept the film grounded. The incorporation of humor here is much more subdued and tasteful than the typical Sandler venture, and it is nice to see that he does have the ability to take on a more serious role. Much of the humor actually falls on the other characters in the film, especially Leachman's insightful Evelyn. Also notable was Shelbie Bruce, a natural who seemed to play her role effortlessly. On the more serious side, Sarah Steele put a lot of emotion into her portrayal of sensitive Bernice, and Vega's American screen debut was very strong - she already is a star in her native Spain. Spanglish will not blow you away, but it is a solid offering definitely worth seeing.

Recommendations: There are a couple of scenes of implied sexuality that are inappropriate for anyone under 13 or 14, but the overall theme of the movie would not likely hold their interest anyway.

Grade: B+

Billy Norris, 17, is in 11th grade at Seminole High, and is a former member of the Times X-Team.

[Last modified December 17, 2004, 11:18:00]

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