A woman at Princeton University’s admissions office opens an application and begins to read an essay. A girl’s voice over narrates the story of how she, Cristina, (Shelbie Bruce) and her mother, Flor (Paz Vega), came to the United States from Mexico, and their life once they arrived in Los Angeles.
Flor works two jobs to support Cristina. But when Flor realizes Cristina is growing up and needs her mother’s guidance regarding boys, she decides to search for a job that will pay enough to allow her to do this. She has never learned English because they have lived in the barrio, so she goes for an interview to the Clasky’s home in Beverly Hills with her cousin. Deborah Clasky (Tea Leoni) hires Flor immediately, even though she cannot pronounce her name. John Clasky (Adam Sandler) is a world class chef but manages his hours so he can spend time with his family. Deborah’s alcoholic mother Evelyn (Cloris Leachman) lives with them. The Clasky’s have two children, the sweet, smart and pudgy Bernice (Sarah Steele) and Georgie (Ian Hymand.)
Deborah is extremely high maintenance and clueless about Mexican culture, though everyone else catches on quickly. She also does not know who she is. As a result, Deborah puts her marriage at risk, and hurts Bernie by her incredibly high standards and what is actually a cruel attitude toward her daughter’s appearance. John is easier going with the children, and Deborah is always upset at him because they are not on “the same page” regarding the children
Things go along pretty well until the Clasky’s decide to rent a house in Malibu for the summer and insist that Flor move in with them. Now Flor tells them she has a daughter, and cannot. Deborah pretty much gives her an ultimatum, and Flor agrees to let Cristina stay for the summer, too. Cristina is lovely, and Deborah interferes between her and Flor, acting as if Cristina is the daughter she really deserves. Meanwhile, Flor begins to learn English. And things get very complicated between Flor, Cristina, John, Deborah and Bernie. And don’t forget the dog. Never throw a ball and have the dog fetch it…
Spanglish, written and directed by James L. Brooks (As Good As It Gets, Jerry McGuire) is not at all what I expected from the trailers. I was surprised by Brooks’ insight into the mother-daughter relationships that he portrays in very believable ways – as well as the immigrant experience from the perspective of newcomers to the United States and the “white” people who employ them.
This is a very nice film about women and the mothers who raise them. It is also about the nature of love as communication.
It is also very rare to successfully have a girl do a voice over narration, but Brooks does it well. Most coming of age movies are all about boys and fathers. Spanglish is thus a refreshing approach.
Perhaps this is Sandler’s transition film into grown-up movies. He is good in the movie.
At the end, Cristina, with much love says something like this: “If you accept me into Princeton, I will be flattered, but it will not define me. It is my mother who has defined me and made me the person I am and this is all I need."