Culture gap

Rated 3.0

Spanglish isn’t so much a straight narrative, but rather a series of vignettes involving the soulless moneyed class as it is infused with the nobility of the servant class.

Mexican àmigrà Flor (Paz Vega) and her young daughter arrive on the doorstep of the dysfunctional Clasky family. Father John (Adam Sandler) spends too much time over-seeing the start-up of his high-end Los Angeles eatery (well, it’s California cuisine, so I guess that should be snackery, large plates blemished with orts), and mother Deborah (Téa Leoni) is a self-obsessed virago appalled by her daughter’s weight problem.

Add to the mix a thematically disposable son and a tipsy grandmother (a welcome return by Cloris Leachman), and Flor has her hands full as she assumes nanny duties for the household. Adding to the conflict is the fact that Flor speaks not a lick of English.

While often dead-on with certain social and emotional observations, Director James L. Brooks’ script is often too contrived for its own good. For starters, what mother in the midst of a precarious marriage would hire as potential competition one of the sexiest women in Hollywood, let alone someone with whom she couldn’t communicate?

The ensemble cast does very good work with what it has, with Leachman and Vega dueling over who gets to steal the show. Leoni gets special credit for sinking her teeth into the role of the mother, creating a character that is so thoroughly loathsome that her screen time is intolerable. Unfortunately, that makes parts of Spanglish an endurance test.

This is heavyweight fluff that ultimately delivers but requires time to warm to.