Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

In Defense of Spanglish

There have been some nasty comments made around here lately on the James L. Brooks film Spanglish. Caution, spoilers follow, so if you intend to see the film you might want to stop reading now.

I saw the film over the weekend, and was struck by its traditional moral message (as well as by Adam Sandler’s ability to act, well, like a grown-up). Some have complained that, because the film does not end with Sandler’s character leaving his termagant of a wife (played by Tea Leone), it demonstrates that he is a hopeless wimp. I disagree; his refusal to commit adultery with his beautiful Mexican housekeeper even in the face of his wife’s betrayal strikes me as a tremendous display of moral strength. Nor does he run back to the wife with open arms; it is clear that much in this marriage will have to change before things are made right. How any self-described conservative can argue that it would be better for him to end the marriage then and there, with two children as part of the equation, is beyond me.

My favorite part of the film, however, is the implicit skewering of the "self-esteem" movement, as exemplified by the harridan wife. The best line comes from her mother, played by the brilliant comic actress Cloris Leachman (whom I’ve loved since her days on Mary Tyler Moore). She has just finished lecturing her daughter about how her horrid behavior is sure to drive off her husband, and the enraged woman responds, "Thank you, mother, for once again making me hate myself!" To which Leachman replies, "Lately, dear, your low self-esteem has just been good common sense."

I don’t want to go overboard here; I’m not about to start adding Spanglish to my top-ten movie list or anything. It was about twenty minutes too long, for one thing. And sorry, I just can’t buy the idea that someone in the restaurant business in Los Angeles doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. But I’m inclined to agree with those who claim that this movie is yet another sign that something good and important is happening even within the bowels of Hollywood.

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In Spanglish, the wealthy white male has become, once again, the mold that is the savior of the mishandled family. Didn’t you notice that every white adult female was attacked in the film? Particularly Tea’s and her mother’s role. Her life, her attempts to achieve some form of self in a world that fires her from jobs at the drop of a hat, that drops her from fame when she is no longer wrinkle free? Tea was an exaggerated caricature of white women, as so was her mother. The message of the film was that all must praise and be thankful for the "adult" behavior of Adam Sandler’s white male character. He and the children were the characters that were allowed to be "normal". They became the standard that white women must (once again)adore and emulate because, according to the author of this screenplay, white adult women are incapable of creating a viable selves. In this film, the character of the mother that Tea plays is a flat rendition of a self involved adult child. What she was not allowed to portray (because this was a script) was a depth of personality and self restraint. That is only allowed to Adam and the children in the film. Thanks, Hollywood, for the attack on white adult women ---- again.

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