Adam Sandler is renowned for his seemingly aggressive characters that react outlandishly to almost any threat or insult. Some don't like this kind of behaviour - and I can see why, it is often wholly incongruous with the way many people have been brought up. However, sometimes Sandler really hits the nail on the head, doing the things that many more 'restrained' people have always wanted to do. Prime example include the restaurant scene in Mr. Deeds where some rich twats are making fun of him or the scene where he punches somebody out for teasing him for his inability to play golf in Happy Gilmore. It is beyond what is acceptable to society, but sometimes it feels very satisfying and it fuels Sandler's style of humour. Unfortunately, not everybody likes his childish nature and sometimes manic behaviour and so they stay away from him, which is a shame because recently he his pulled off a couple of slightly more unusual movies. Punch Drunk Love was seemingly a standard angry Sandler film until Paul Thomas Anderson turned it around into a much more adult drama and 50 First Dates was a warm, sweet romantic comedy blessed by Drew Barrymore. Here we get Spanglish where, once again, Sandler gets a more mature part to play.
The film kicks off introducing us to the two central characters - Flor and her daughter Christina - who are living across the border in South America when they decide to pack their bags to forge a new future in LA. After struggling with two menial jobs just to provide for the two of them, Flor lands a much better position as a housemaid and nanny at the Clasky residence. The father of the family is John, a successful and kind career man who is on the brink of being labelled as the best chef in the country. Unfortunately, however understanding he is, he just does not seem to have the tools to deal with the mid-life crisis that his manic-depressive, neurotic wife - Deborah - is going through. She is so busy fretting about herself that she does not notice the damage she is doing to her own children and her own marriage. Flor and her daughter, who needs to translate because she is the only one who speaks English, initially try to stay out of the personal lives of this distraught, frenetic nuclear family but pretty soon they find themselves helplessly embroiled in all of the little family squabbles and full-on arguments. Flor finds herself increasingly drawn to the husband, John, having great admiration for his ability to sustain everything his wife dishes out for the sake of keeping the family together and it is not long before John also starts to really notice their new house guest and all of the things that he is missing in his current relationship.
Although Adam Sandler is headlining this movie, relative newcomer (at least in terms of Hollywood - she has done a couple of Spanish flicks) Paz Vega puts in a truly noteworthy performance as the central character, Flor. Having to express herself with actions and gestures rather than words, more often than not, she does a great job of capturing a strongly disciplined woman who is determined to resist change from her increasingly cliquey Los Angeles environment and she is as convincing in her lack of understanding of English as she is with her confused feelings towards the different household members. None of this makes Sandler's part any less important however, even if it would seem as if he underplays it quite a bit. I mean, that in itself is an amazing feat for him - most people are familiar with his loud, brash and aggressive characters, so this more restrained and bottled-up role is a superb opportunity to show some real range in his acting abilities. His character here is more subtle and basically more normal than his usual choices, making him easier to relate to and perhaps less abrasive for those who are not fans of his other work. Rounding off the central characters we get a very strange turn from Téa Leoni (Deep Impact, Bad Boys) as the selfish wife Deborah. Although she probably deserves some serious acclaim for being so believable, the character was so detestable that it simply put me off her as an actress - although perhaps it does not help that I have never seen her play somebody who hasn't had neurotic tendencies.
Spanglish is a not too sweet and fairly realistic little romantic comedy which tries its best to assert its position as a proper drama. To be honest, it nearly succeeds, taking what could have been a thoroughly predictable plot and giving it a slightly unusual edge that is not quite as simple as your standard Rom-Coms (i.e. they meet, fight all odds to be together but something happens to split them up and it seems like they are never going to be together but then love conquers all and they live happily ever after). This is quite refreshing and I am sure that there are plenty of little moments when you really do relate to the characters and what they are going through but when all is said and done, the film does not really go anywhere. It is a shame because there are some very unusual performances from the cast in this one. Some might particularly warm to the sentiment of the movie and the fact that it does no lapse into syrupy-sweet standard romantic fluff but I doubt that many people would rate this movie much above average.