The Hunt For The Worst Movie Of All Time: Spanglish

Now we’re talking. Of all the movies we’ve discussed so far, Spanglish is probably the most watchable. It is, for all intents and purposes, a professionally put together drama about genuine-ish characters dealing with the ups and downs of modern suburban life. And yet, despite its watchableness and its slick, Hollywood style, it falls so short in its ambitions, and bungles its professed intentions so badly, that I feel for the first time like we’re finally getting to the heart of what this Hunt is supposed to be all about. While theoretically a “better” movie than many that we’ve seen, it is that disastrous mishandling of lofty ideals that really makes us (me) wince. It’s also kind of racist. Perfect.

Spanglish is told through the college admissions essay of Cristina Moreno, who says that her greatest inspiration is her mother. What follows is the story of a married couple played by Tea Leoni and Adam Sandler. They live in Los Angeles with Tea Leoni’s alcoholic mother and their two children, one of whom is a little chubby, and the other one is a boy. Cristina’s mother, Flor, is hired by Tea Leoni to be a nanny and housekeeper. But Flor doesn’t speak English! Ha ha! You can imagine that things get pretty silly. Then a newspaper writes a review of Adam Sandler’s restaurant calling him the greatest chef in the country, so they rent a beach house in Malibu and make Flor and Cristina come live there? Adam Sandler is kind of miserable and Tea Leoni cheats on him and then he almost cheats on her with Flor but then he doesn’t. Meanwhile Tea Leoni enrolls Cristina in the private school that her children attend because she likes Cristina better than she likes her own children. In the end, though, Flor decides that she cannot work there anymore what with how she almost destroyed Adam Sandler’s marriage and also how they are turning Cristina into a c word. LONGEST COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY EVER.

The immediate and largest problem with this movie is Tea Leoni’s depiction of a harried, depressive, angry suburban housewife. The problem is that it’s hard to feel sympathy or root for miserable characters, especially when they’re just consistently miserable. And we’re never offered any explanation for why Tea Loni’s character acts this way. Combine that with the puppy dog sensitivity of Adam Sandler’s character, who apparently can do no wrong (although he almost does wrong) and she’s even more monstrous. Why did he marry her? Why is he staying with her? We are never given the answers to these questions, and so it’s just two hours of some bitch screaming. Shut her up! I’m not saying that miserable shrews don’t deserve to have their stories told, although maybe I am saying that miserable shrews don’t deserve to have their stories told.

Not that Adam Sandler’s good guy routine isn’t equally unbearable. He’s supposedly a great chef, which we know because one time he made an egg sandwich.

OK, but he’s presented as some kind of Mr. Perfect. That’s already obnoxious and unrealistic, but he’s also clearly not Mr. Perfect as evidenced by the fact that he almost cheats on his wife with Flor. Granted, she’s miserable and just told him that she had cheated on him, but still. You’re either going to be the bigger man or you are not going to be the bigger man, but you cannot be both the bigger man and the smaller man, except in this movie you can, which is one of the reasons it is bad. Also, while I will commend Mr. Sandler on an acceptable performance in a movie that especially at the time seemed well outside of his comfort zone, nevertheless, always with the yelling?

Yup. Always with the yelling. Then there’s the story of Flor and Cristina, which I guess is supposed to be an honest look at the immigrant’s experience, especially concerning a parent’s pain in watching the new generation assimilate. Sure, James L. Brooks. Except that in general, assimilation occurs as a natural process as part of being in a new country, not because some rich asshole decides that they like you better than their chubby daughter because they have an eating disorder themselves. Not to mention the part where Tea Leoni gets Cristina a full ride at a private school, but the private school never once asks to meet Cristina’s actual mother? No, yes, sorry, I went to public school so I’m so stupid, I’m sure that’s totally how it works. That is about as believable as the time that two guys at the bar tried to order Flor and Cristina a drink, even though it is impossibly obvious that Cristina is 12.

In the end, the movie fails primarily because it hopes to be a poignantly complex look at modern life but everything is painfully simple. Tea Leoni sucks. Adam Sandler is nice. Flor is gentle. Grandma is a sassy drunk. The daughter is chubby. The son is a boy. Seriously, the son was probably my favorite character. So ill-defined and unnecessary! At the beginning of the movie, to show the rift between Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni, they have a fight about conflicting parenting messages and how it’s important to be on the same page. OK. That seems like a real thing that parents fight about. Except that the fight stems, literally, from their son asking Adam Sandler, “Dad, are you as mad at me as mom because of what happened?” BECAUSE OF WHAT HAPPENED! Multi-million dollar movie with big name celebrities and one of the creators of the Simpsons and no one could think of a single thing to write into the script that was more interesting or realistic than “because of what happened?” What is the Spanish word for “lame”?

Also, in classic Worst Movie style, there was a RIDICULOUS COFFEE MACHINE!

What is it about terrible movies and unrealistic depictions of coffee makers? Venti FAIL.

Next week: Gigli. As always, please leave your suggestions in the comments or in an email. And if you haven’t done so already, please consult the Official Rules.