After having two successive conversations on sexual ethics, dating and relationships, it seemed fitting that I concluded yesterday watching the Adam Sandler movie Spanglish. I had only a vague notion of the film’s subject matter when I picked it up the DVD on the super bargain rack (under $5) at Target earlier in the week. I had not seen it in its initial release, having heard that it received poor reviews.
Since then, a number of friends commented favorably on the flick, so it seemed worth the minimal purchase price. And while it was flawed, I found it brilliant, one of the few Hollywood films of late to capture a complex moral situation and break the Hollywood romantic formula to offer a socially conservative message about parental responsibility.
Spoiler Alert. If you have not seen the movie and intend to do so, don’t read any further unless you wish to know how it turns out.
Just like Bogart in Casablanca, one of the greatest movies of all times, Sandler, this film’s hero, learns there is something more noble than romantic love. For Bogart, it was the fight against fascism. For Sandler, it’s his duties as a father.
Most of the films flaws are minor. I didn’t particularly like the framing device, a voice over by the daughter of the Sandler’s romantic interest as she reads her application to Princeton University detailing why her mother has been so influential to her. It’s not that I minded the voice over. It’s that it seemed a little overmuch.
And maybe one of the “flaws” was not so much in the movie itself, but in my expectation. Considering that Sandler was the lead, I expected a comedy, but what I got was more of a drama, with some of the comedic elements seeming out of place.
The basic story involves Flor Morena (Paz Vega), a single mother from Mexico who finds herself as the housekeeper for John (Sandler) and Deborah Clasky (TÃ©a Leoni) in their upscale Los Angeles home. As Deborah becomes increasingly distant from her own daughter (Sarah Steele) and takes up with her realtor (Thomas Haden Church), John becomes taken with Flor.
In one of the film’s climatic scenes, he takes her to his restaurant (he’s a chef) where he cooks her a meal and they confess their love for one another, yet refuse to consummate it. As Flor puts it, “There are some mistakes you cannot risk when you have children.” (While the rejection of romantic love may break the Hollywood formula, this notion of parental responsibility is not entirely foreign to quality Hollywood films; it echoes a line from the 2003 remake, Cheaper by the Dozen, “If I screw up with my kids, nothing I achieve will matter much.”)
John goes back to his wife who, thanks to the sage advice of her imperfect mother (Cloris Leachman), realizes the error of her ways.
Unlike Flor’s husband who had walked out on her (to see the film’s story in motion), Sandler won’t leave his wife and abandon his children. Like that compassionate Mexican woman, he realizes his duties as a parent are more important than his passions as a lover.
It’s nice to see a Hollywood movie put this notion which seems quaint and socially conservative to all too many today into a movie. Maybe that’s why it garnered middling reviews.