“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns…”
James L. Brooks, directing from his own script, contrasts the feisty, almost saintly Mexican Flor (Paz Vega) with the chaotic, frenziedly insecure Anglo housewife Deborah Clasky (Tea Leoni). The story is narrated by the teenaged Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) in the form of an essay she is writing for gaining entrance into Princeton University. A few years earlier, after her father had died, Flor and she left Mexico in quest of a better life. They landed in Los Angeles, where Flor discovered a bit of old Mexico in the Mexican-American Community. For six years Flor never ventured forth into the larger world, nor attempted to learn English.
Then comes the day when Flor secures a job with the Claskys, who are so desperate for help that they almost get down on their knees and beg her to accept their offer of a job, despite he inability to speak English. Not only does Mom Clasky (Deborah) have all sorts of problems coping with the house, but there are also problems with her slightly overweight daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele). You can see it coming, can’t you? The wise servant leading the befuddled wealthy family into greater wisdom and harmony.
Despite its predictability as it travels down a well-beaten path, there are some engaging moments in this tale of culture clash (an important part of which is the two different ways the mothers are raising their daughters). The scene in which Cristina serves as translator between Flora and Deborah is hilarious, the daughter copying her mother’s facial expressions and arm wavings. Cloris Leachman as Evelyn, Deborah’s alcoholic mother, provides a memorable scene when she has a heart to heart talk with her befuddled daughter. Adam Sandler as the long-suffering father John Clasky does not seem very believable as chef of a four star restaurant, so laid back and unassuming is he, but still adds a measure of heart and calm to the turbulence around him.
The film is worth watching, but for those who want real insights into the Mexican experience in the dominant Anglo culture, go and take out the video of Mi Familia or Film Movement’s Manito. Nonetheless, the film could be used as a springboard for a discussion of relationships with the growing Mexican-American segment of our population. How the dominant group treats the minority group, or “sojourners” as they are called in the RSV Bible, dates back to the time of Israel. The book of Deuteronomy has quite a few passages commanding fair and just treatment of the poor and of “sojourners,” especially Ch. 24. Thus a so-so film could lead to an excellent discussion and examination of personal and congregational ministry.