Spanglish (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

It was an unusual day for me. I watched two recent releases and neither of them was aimed at the core moviegoing audience. The primary targets for movie marketers are (1) the male 17-39 market (2) the 17-39 date market. A film can be profitable and/or successful outside these hardcore ticket-buying groups, but these two cool and culturally savvy segments are holding the bulk of the purchasing power.

Spanglish is a sentimental film that seeks its primary audiences outside the cool market. Its primary appeal will be to the youngest female moviegoers who go to films alone, and the oldest filmgoers who are generally burnt out on the ugliness and brutality of what today passes for hip. It also has some appeal as a date movie or a film for the family to attend together.

It is about the members of a prosperous California family and the Mexican maid who affects their lives. The story is told as a flashback, within the framework of an essay written as part of the Ivy league admission process. Applicants are asked to name the person who most influenced their lives and to defend their choice. The voice-over tells us that the Princeton applicant is the maid's precocious daughter, who was about twelve when the flashbacks took place. Her point of view is naive, and her admiration for her mother is boundless, but she is also smart and insightful. (The girl who played this role is a very gifted young actress who had to handle the trickiest parts of the dialogue - when she was translating accurately for her mother even though she disagreed or would end up for the worse personally.)

The white family is troubled, mostly because of a self absorbed bitch-from-hell of a wife and mother. The rest of the family consists of your standard sitcom characters: the feisty but benign old granny who offers great insights amid drunken profanities, the overweight underachieving daughter, the dickless dad ...

... you know the drill

The IMDb scores

voter group

average score
below 18 7.0
18-29 6.7
30-44 6.4
45 7.1
men 6.6
women 6.9
Two strongest segments
female below 18 7.2
female over 44 7.4

I don't mean to imply that the film is somehow worse than others, or for that matter better, because it is unhip. In reality, I'm just trying to fix it in the universe so you can better determine whether you will like it. I'm a little bit embarrassed to confess that I did kind of like its gentle point of view, its syrupy attitude toward the maid (Paz Vega), and its fairy-tale Platonic love relationship between Paz and the dad, even though the dad was played by the antichrist himself, Adam Sandler.

My hero, the Filthy Critic, could not have disagreed more. He said:

Sanctimonious claptrap. Not much more to say. Writer-director James L Brooks made a movie of such stupendous self-absorption, shallowness, and of interest to so few that it hardly needs discussing. Rich, stupid Californian sitcom characters (like a sassy mother-in-law and a ball-busting clueless mother) discover goodness through the eyes of a hot, saintly Mexican maid. It's a story that will appeal only to wealthy assholes in LA with guilt complexes about their immigrant servants, and who think that deifying them is better than giving them Christmas bonuses. The characters are too broad and their problems are too fucking foreign to any normal person. The Mexicans are portrayed so politically-correct and simplistically I can't imagine any Mexican wanting to see it. Crap on a doily. Lame.

It is not really possible for me to defend the film intellectually. It is not a realistic script, nor is it very intelligent, and it is a bit condescending. The uptight wife (Tea Leoni) was irritatingly stereotypical, to the point where I wanted to shake her and say, "no, act like a person, not like a movie character." Bottom line: Spanglish is a sappy, unsophisticated, middlebrow movie. In any objective sense, Filthy is right, as usual.

But film criticism is not so objective, and regular old film watching is not objective at all. I would never have gone out of the way to see this, but I really liked a lot of the moments in the film. Sandler was actually good for this movie because his unpolished style and clumsiness give it a sincerity that it desperately needed. Sandler is no actor, and he has his clumsy moments here, but the casting process was good. He does seem to have a childlike inner sweetness that he is capable of bringing out on camera, and that was enough to give this role the spark it needed. In the end, the film left me feeling better than if I had never watched it, even if the whole process did seem as if it had been entirely orchestrated to manipulate my feelings. What the hell. People like this kind of fluff every once in a while. Families watch It's A Wonderful Life every Christmas. We want to believe that life is better than it is, or at least that it could be better. That's the kind of movie this is - not a great one or a smart one, not a film that shows us as we are on the average, but one that shows us in our best moments, or maybe as we wished those moments had been.



  • full-length commentary with Brooks and others

  • full shooting script

  • casting sessions (with or without Brooks' commentary)

  • 12 deleted scenes

  • "HBO First Look" making-of feature


Téa Leoni shows her right breast in a (presumably) unintentional peek down her robe.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars ... Um ... there was no consensus, but the average was two stars. That basically consisted of two threes and two ones. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3/4, Lisa Schwartzbaum D, BBC 2/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It grossed $42 million in a maximum of 2600 theaters, debuting in the #3 spot. That might seem respectable, and it might have been a profitable movie if budgeted modestly, but the studio spent $80 million to produce this film, and probably another $20-30 million to advertise and distribute it. They were certainly hoping for a much bigger box office.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Unhip, sentimental, facile, and full of Adam Sandler. OK, it's not for you Tarantino or Bergman fans, and yeah, I would never have watched it if I didn't have to - but it made me feel pretty good, dammit!

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