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Culture Reviews
Spanglish /By James L. Brooks/
Dome Cinema 
By Sam Gerrans
Written by James L. Brooks. Directed by James L. Brooks. Starring: Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman. 130 minutes. USA.

Review top sheet: Check in your mind along with your coat and hat when you come to see this film. Better still, have a lobotomy. Then sit back and gorge yourself on dramatic candyfloss and popcorn until the end credits appear.

The film has pretensions to being meaningful. It isn’t. But that’s okay, isn’t it? (I loved “Lost in Translation” which I say rocked. You can take your bearings from there.)

“Spanglish” is a corporate Big-Mac-and-fries experience. You’ll leave less satisfied than glutted, and with the nagging suspicion that you would have been better off having a salad – or, perhaps, nothing at all.

Take this film for what it is: brain candy with genuinely funny moments.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: you like Adam Sandler ("50 First Dates", "Anger Management", "Longfellow Deeds", "Punch-Drunk Love")
No, if: you don’t like Adam Sandler ("50 First Dates", "Anger Management", "Longfellow Deeds", "Punch-Drunk Love")
Maybe, if: you’ve never seen an Adam Sandler film ("50 First Dates", "Anger Management", "Longfellow Deeds", "Punch-Drunk Love")

Comments: the Adam Sandler mix of diffidence (the slightly spazzy older-brother thing), apparent lack of affectation, and his poor man’s noblesse oblige franchise either yanks you in or gets on your nerves.

Personally, I like it in the way I like Status Quo: one dose every two or three years is all right, but more than that is overkill.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story: **
• Dialogue: ***
• Substance: *
• Film craft: *

Story comments: the film’s excuse for existing is a limp look at questions of cultural identity and belonging.

The tension in the film is provided by a superbly neurotic and sociopathically competitive T?a Leoni. She plays the blonde with whippet-like body tone to the brunette Paz Vega’s voluptuous curves.

I’m a curves man, so my loyalties were pretty much a given.

Dialogue comments: Cloris Leachman (who plays the alcoholic mother) imbues her lines with an energy, humour and pathos sufficient to pull the film over onto the verge of excellent drama for as long as she occupies the screen.

If you go, go for Cloris.

Substance comments: “Spanglish” is based on the notion that America – and here I mean the super-rich White America which makes up all of two percent of the total – is an earthly paradise to which all right-thinking third-worldlings naturally aspire.

Having been accepted at the high table of the ruling elite, broken the language barrier, and mastered their ruthless and soulless (but totally necessary) education system, you will realise how lucky are to have started life scratching a living from some dustbowl thousands of miles away. It’s your cultural inheritance and you lose it at your peril.

Again, I am lost by the American need to confess sexual indiscretion to one’s partner as a way of making it all right. For me, it’s not a plot point. It’s a futile exercise in inflicting needless suffering on your wife, children and – to some lesser degree – yourself.

Film craft comments: functional.

A taste of the story: a young, pretty Mexican girl and her young, incredibly pretty Mexican mother (Paz Vega) leave a life of idyllic perfection in Mexico for the bright lights of assorted US minimum-wage sweatshops.

Though she knows no English whatsoever, this voluptuous Hispanic beauty is invited by a plain-looking rich woman with obvious and severe marital problems (T?a Leoni) to keep house for her.

Thereafter, the key question is: can Adam Sandler – the plain-looking woman’s husband – resist the obvious imperative to do to the voluptuous Hispanic beauty what the rest of male America would like him to?


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

19.02.05
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