3-STARS – WHOLESOME
Based upon the previous films of Adam Sandler, you might be inclined to dismiss yet another of his movies as “fluff comedy.” Although “Spanglish” is in the idiom of comedy, its focus on family, morality, and honesty mark this as a valuable contribution to the “values” debate currently occurring in America and throughout the world.
The movie opens with a review board at Princeton University pouring over freshman applications to the school. With the majority of the submittals being self-congratulatory missives about themselves, the reviewer is struck by the focus that Cristina Moreno (Shelbie Bruce) places on the lessons she has learned from her mother.
From that point on, we are transported back to the time that Cristina was a budding teenager and her mother Flor (Paz Vega) has just brought her to Los Angeles from their home in Mexico in order to give her a better life. Cristina’s father had abandoned the family, and the weight of caring for Christina meant that Flor worked two jobs in LA in order to pay the rent.
Wanting a better life, Flor agrees to take a job working as a house assistant to an upwardly mobile and dysfunctional family. John Clasky (Adam Sandler), an up and coming celebrity chef and restaurateur, and his insecure wife Deborah (Tia Leoni), have two children and are at odds about how they should be raised. Like many stereotypical southern California women, Deborah is obsessed with looking and being fit as well as molding her offspring into magazine model children – glossy on the outside but having only a millimeter of depth. Deborah’s alcoholic mother, Evelyn Norwich (Cloris Leachman), also lives at the house, adding another generation of dysfunction. John, although emotionally weak, would give up his business just to spend more time loving his kids just the way they are.
Into this frenetic household, Flor and Cristina become more and more absorbed. Cristina is mesmerized by the upscale life that she is now sharing, not seeing the dangers behind the glitter. Flor, shaped by her faith and her culture, resolves to stand up to Deborah and insists that she stop trying to win over Cristina while ignoring her own children. In this emotional house of cards, any challenge to the status quo causes a tidal wave of reaction. However, without this catalyst, there would be little possibility for wholeness and healing to occur in their family.
Poor in material things, Flor is rich in gifts of the Spirit. It is her love, joy, parental commitment and self-giving that begin to unlock John’s kindness and bring about Deborah’s and her mother’s healing. It is Flor’s strength of conviction that also provides her with the ability to stand up to her daughter and remove her from her “new dream life” in order to keep her character strong. Flor continues to emerge as a woman of great outward and inward beauty.
But it is also Flor who has the strength of character to resist the real temptation of replacing Deborah in the life of the family. Even though this could fulfill a wonderful fantasy and provide substantial security, this “easy way out” so often taken by others in our southern California media-driven culture is not consistent with the values upon which she has lived her life or those she wants to model of a relationship for her daughter. Ironically, it is in Flor’s exhibited strength that Deborah’s and John’s weaknesses begin to be healed.
The beauty of “Spanglish” is that it molds together a light-hearted comedy with a theme of great depth. Instead of appealing to “getting our personal needs fulfilled,” it shows a wisdom that transcends the immediate need for comfort with a long term foundation based upon values that will stand the test of time.
- When a functional person becomes a part of a dysfunctional family, the opportunity for healing becomes possible. Have you ever experienced the healing power of such a “newcomer” to your family or social group?
- Have you experienced the opposite: a dysfunctional newcomer coming into your functional family or group? What happened to the people and relationships and what part did you play?
- The transformation that comes from focusing on the needs of others rather than on getting what we want is often called a spiritual rebirth. Have you experienced such a “change of heart?” If so, how did it happen in your life?
- In the end, families are only as healthy as are the adults in charge. How healthy are the adults in charge of your family? What changes need to be made?