Spanglish

“Deborah Clasky: Mother, I need to say something to you…You were an alcoholic and wildly promiscuous woman during my formative years so I’m in this fix because of you

Evelyn Wright: You have a solid point dear, but just now the lessons of my life are coming in handy for you.”

Nearly everyone in Spanglish, even almost everyone with screen-time, has a backstory or at least a richly detailed, clearly delineated personality. The equations between the cast are finely modulated, through action and reaction etched into their faces (Evelyn Wright in the scene quoted above) or through the dialogue that prompts a fresh unlooked for response from the character such as this soft-spoken response from Adam Sandler’s John Clasky when talking to his daughter, Bernice:

Bernice Clasky (reading the review of her father’s restaurant aloud): Eating at this perfect, smaller, passionate restaurant inspires one’s own abandonment of caution. To wit…John Clasky is the best chef in the United States.

John Clasky: Look how great you read it.

The whole group seems to be thoroughly sympatico (that was a dialogue reference) with each other. A review I read somewhere took issue with the movie’s dependence on stereotypical characters (drunken mother-in-law, I think it said, and maybe problematic wife, attractive housekeeper?). On the other hand Roger Ebert seemed taken aback by the range of Tea Leoni’s Deborah, though Deborah seemed eminently understandable to me. Her emotions flare-up to delight and spiral downwards into self-absorption and personal misery that crushes every unfortunate in her vicinity, but especially her daughter and her husband. Inappropriate remarks tumble out her mouth every time she talks, and  she waits with a disarming vulnerability for a crushing put-down, because she’s aware of all the words,

John  Clasky: I think that’s a little…

Deborah Clasky: What? Insensitive? Elitist? Narcissistic? Irresponsible? Perverse? Dizzy? What?…

Open-handed and direct, she remains incapable of shifting her own perspective the slightest bit, paralyzed (one can only assume) by her own feelings and thereby unable to accommodate someone else’s. At one point she congratulates Flor (played by Paz Vega) on her daughter’s appearance, and tells her she could make a fortune at surrogate pregnancy. A joke between similarly situated people, but I was wondering if it could be casually flipped out like that to someone not as mainstream as one was oneself.

I did wonder if the movie set out to contrast two visions of womanhood, through Deborah and Flor’s characters. Each seemed to be beauty worked to the highest possible pitch from two different cultures. The movie does explicitly call out the contrast in the lines (and juxtaposed scenes of Flor and Deborah) about how “dieting, exercising American women” suppress desire for style and become afraid of “all that is good in life” including motherhood. With a lack of self-critique the movie personifies motherhood through the curvaceous Flor, economically vulnerable since her divorce, and now working as a housekeeper. Fortunately, Deborah Clasky’s character does not remain a catch-all for all that is bad in life. She is “infuriated” when John Clasky squeezes her breast to get her to stop talking (perhaps constantly and wrong-headedly, but also sincerely and expressively). Her angst, which if you ask me, is the angst of the contemporary woman terrified that accommodation might mean losing out,giving in or not existing on her own terms, unsure of herself because she has set herself a new, unperformed script to play. It’s hard to do what hasn’t been done before. If she has a chip on her shoulder it’s because it was placed there.

The movie swings more in favour of self-possessed and principled Flor, than the uncertain and destructive wreck that Deborah becomes, and so maybe it seems that women must choose between diametrically opposed paths. But fortunately it is also about other things. Communication is a key theme in a movie about family dynamics and employer-employee relations when the help can’t speak the language. Flor is always certain of herself, but as she experiences challenges she wasn’t expecting she remains sure-footed and even learns how to speak in a new language and take care of herself in a new culture. Three of the adults in the film, John, Deborah, and Flor are concerned with elaborately fine-tuning their communication. Deborah remains the most insistently reliant on vocabulary, expecting words to give new life to a relationship, yet Sandler’s and Paz Vega’s characters achieve the fullest comprehension, despite “communicating in apologies” and not having a large number of mutually understood words between them.

Spanglish packs in a great deal of perspective into two hours. It is a warm and credible look at cultural values, relationships and communication.

 

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Thoughts on Leo in the times of The Revenant

Leo DiCaprio doesn’t die this time. I think the man suffers from some kind of complex of grandeur. Why does he keep choosing roles that die encompassed by pointedly humble magnitude? He certainly seems to be under the impression that he can more than support the part of vulnerable, unlovable greatness. Think of his movie choices: He begins with  Jack (well in global terms that’s where he began, no?) and stole that role yes, but he dies. And don’t forget Romeo+Juliet before that, where he died again. Basketball Diaries. Extremely troubled. Frank W Abnagale in Catch Me if You Can does NOT die but I’m sure that wasn’t DiCaprio’s idea. I notice he hasn’t done another Steven Spielberg movie.The Aviator. Is very miserable all through. Blood Diamond.Dies most beautifully on the African continent.Just like the Atlantic, an all out monument to our Leo that is most befitting.J.Edgar. Dead.His passing is marked by his own voice over giving him a send off worthy of such an actor, er sorry, I meant character. The Great Gatsby. Well I loved the movie,also Leo. He fit in with no fireworks and with easy, perfect, perfection. But guess what? Leo bites it. Again, there was no choice, but by now our suspicions are confirmed. Leo D. – Oscar winner and quintessential drama queen.

He was appropriately hateful in Django Unchained though.And Katy was allowed the death scene in Revolutionary Road, trapped in a little room in a suburban house.(Where else do women die? And how else, but- essentially- of boredom, heh heh heh :D). Let’s see Gangs of New York he (supposedly) just dies like everyone else of his generation, but he  – he gets to be the voice of the whole damn concern. Of New York. Of an era. Of an entire phase of history. Really Leo. A little modesty would be more becoming.Wolf of Wall Street. He lives! But is unpleased when accepting the Globe for a comic role if memory serves me right.

The Revenant. He lives! We will call this his mature period.Aren’t so many DiCaprio movies action movies in dramatic clothing? Was just thinking that when I watched The Revenant. So. much.action. He jumps on his horse, and falls off a cliff, a beautiful woman is lurking all dead in the background, giving him sustenance (as women are wont to do. Very sustaining creatures, us ladies. Well not me. I’m lazy and work only under the pressure of terror … but I know what I’m supposed to be. I need to be a sustaining, ethereal, horizontal, goddess). I basically just really liked the last scene where the camera work and the chase scene unglamourises the revenge between the two men. It looks meaningless against the big empty backdrop of landscape. Also when the Native Americans don’t kill him and he seems to be undergoing some tremendous thought transformation. You wonder what he is thinking. And that’s acting.

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