On Spanglish, and Other Movies I Only Watch Because I'm Married
Made in 2004 by director James Brooks and starring Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, and Paz Vega, the film actually makes a number of noteworthy points. The film does so by offering the audience three-dimensional characters who each possess considerable flaws and strengths. The basic plot--a Mexican woman becomes the maid to a rich white couple--is less interesting than the characters themselves. Sandler is a talented but passive father and husband, Leoni is a narcissistic, image-obsessed wife and mom, and Vega is a traditional woman attempting to give her daughter a good life in the absence of a husband. I found the first two characters the most interesting as they reflect definite cultural realities in the current day. Sandler's character is vocationally a man but socially a boy. He possesses little strength and conviction by which to lead his household and is constantly escaping the home to blow off frustration built up by his high-strung wife, who is simply crying out (unconsciously) for her husband to lead and help her and speak hard truth to her. He fails to do so, meek and nice as he is, and she begins to cheat on him with another man, a man who is strong and confident. This is a great commentary on many men today who are so nice and meek that they have lost all conception of conviction and courage, not to mention leadership.
Leoni's character indicts American women who obsess over body image, social standing, and the approval of others. Essentially, Leoni's character is a study in what talented, strong women become when men do not lead them well and provide a good model of masculine initiative and strength. Such women become shrill and scattered, emotionally tenuous, and frustrated, albeit in a way that defies easy communication. The home looks broken to the movie's watcher, and some would conclude that both of the spouses are at fault, and there is truth to this assertion, but this is primarily an indictment of male passivity. When men abdicate their leadership role, women struggle. Placed in a role they intuitively know is not theirs (90% of Americans today still believe men to be the household head), women go back and forth between frustrated assertiveness and tearful defeat. They have no means of solving the problem on their own, because though they may well have problems of their own that contribute to their husband's passivity, they are not ultimately able to fix the problem. Only their husband can do this, and he can only do it if he realizes that according to the Bible he is to be a rock to his family, a pillar of strength, a model of leadership.
Spanglish, though it might disagree with me on the source of masculine strength, understands this point. It makes a powerful and nuanced statement in a culture awash with confusion over gender roles and basic questions of masculine and feminine identity. There are many funny scenes, nuanced characters, and good lines (and some objectionable content, so consider that), but nowhere does the film make a bigger impact than in its indictment of men for their passivity, their weakness, their boyishness, qualities which bring them--and their families--to their knees.