Cristina Moreno (Shelbie Bruce) is applying to Princeton University. For her application essay, she tells the story of a year from her childhood, and how it shaped the person she has become today (narrated by Aimee Garcia).
Flor Moreno (Paz Vega) is a poor Mexican single mother who moved to America seeking a better life for her and her daughter, Cristina. She takes on two jobs, but soon cannot maintain them, so Flor's cousin takes her to a job interview to work as a nanny for the Clasky family, consisting of John (Adam Sandler) and Deborah Clasky (Téa Leoni), their children Bernice (Sarah Steele) and Georgie (Ian Hayland), and Deborah's mother Evelyn Wright (Cloris Leachman). John is a successful Chef and an easy-going man who enjoys cooking and spending time with his children, while Deborah is a former businesswoman turned stay-at-home mother, and Evelyn is slowly developing into an alcoholic. Deborah is uptight and her neurotic behavior often upsets the family - she mentally abuses her daughter, body shaming Bernice by forcing her to exercise, buying her smaller-sized clothes and putting her down for certain behaviors; and she frustrates John by expecting him to be submissive and accepting of her parenting style with Georgie. John is more laid back and supports the mental well-being of his children, but he feels that he cannot stand up to Deborah, and so usually decides to let her be.
Soon, Flor is needed to be a full time nanny at the Claskys' home for the Summer. Unable to communicate well in English, Deborah finds a neighbor to translate, and Flor admits she is unable to maintain these hours because she has a daughter. Out of desperation to keep Flor as their nanny, Deborah invites Cristina to come stay with them, to act as interpreter for her mother. Deborah immediately becomes attached to Cristina since she is beautiful and thin, and begins to treat her more like a daughter than Bernice. The clothes and gifts which Deborah buys for Cristina does not go unnoticed by Flor, who does not approve. Needing to get materials for a project that he is working on, John gives the children a small task, in which they will receive money in exchange for various pieces of glass they collect from the beach. Cristina takes the task seriously and ends up receiving $640 for her collection. Flor finds out about this, and is overwhelmed and angry at the large sum of money given to her daughter. Flor and John argue, with Cristina as the interpreter, and Flor wants to leave because of the awkward family dynamic. John coaxes her into staying, much to Cristina's delight, and Flor begins to learn English so she can better communicate with the Claskys.
In the meantime, John opens a new restaurant, but falls into a temporary depression because of the stress of the business, while Deborah begins an affair. Deborah enrolls Cristina into a private school with Bernice, upsetting Flor, who wants Cristina to keep in touch with her Mexican roots and working-class values. Flor feels that her employer is overstepping her bounds and voices her objection to John, who tells her he is also frustrated with Deborah because Bernice has no support system from her own mother. Flor tries to encourage Bernice and build her self-confidence, by showing her small acts of kindness, especially after Deborah has been hard on her.
Summer ends and Cristina and Bernice attend their first day of school together. That afternoon, Cristina is allowed to bring her school friends back to the Clasky's house; however, Bernice is not. Flor, who had not given permission for this, is upset at the situation and Deborah tries to cover for Cristina. The now-sober Evelyn realizes that her daughter is having an affair and that her marriage is in trouble. She pleads with Deborah to end the affair, telling her she will never get another man as good as John. Deborah confesses to John that she cheated on him and begs him to stay so that they can work things out; however, a dejected John walks out and bumps into Flor, who was about to inform him that she is quitting. He offers to give Flor a ride to the bus stop, but the pair end up going to his restaurant, where he cooks for Flor. They have a genuine and deep conversation, and become closer, but Flor is afraid of the consequences of a relationship, since they both have children. Flor tells John the she has feelings for him, but leaves before he can kiss her. A desperate Deborah continuously tries to contact John, but Evelyn prevents her from doing so. Evelyn says that her own failings as a parent have caused Deborah to become the person that she is, and the two have a frank conversation during which they become closer as mother and daughter.
Flor decides to quit and take her daughter home, which angers Cristina, who got along well with the Claskys. As they are about to leave, John tells Flor that he envies whoever will get to have her in the future, before parting ways forever. On their way home, Flor tells Cristina that she cannot attend to the private school anymore, upsetting Cristina even more. She screams in the middle of the street, accusing Flor of ruining her life. Flor loses patience with Cristina after she asks her mother for 'space', similar to the Claskys avoiding each other and asking for space when they cannot solve a problem. Flor explains to her daughter that it is time she answers the most important question of her life: "Is what you want for yourself, to become someone very different than me?" Cristina considers this on their bus ride home, and they make up and embrace.
Cristina, in her university essay, acknowledges that her life rests firmly and happily on the simple fact that she is her mother's daughter.Adam Sandler as John Clasky
Paz Vega as Flor Moreno
Téa Leoni as Deborah Clasky
Cloris Leachman as Evelyn Wright
Aimee Garcia as the narrator (Adult Cristina Moreno)
Shelbie Bruce as 12-year-old Cristina
Victoria Luna as 6-year-old Cristina
Sarah Steele as Bernice "Bernie" Clasky
Ian Hyland as George "Georgie" Clasky
Jake Pennington as Young George
Cecilia Suárez as Monica
Thomas Haden Church as Mike the Realtor
Antonio Muñoz ( actor ) Mexican at Family Dinner
Brooks cast Sandler after seeing his more dramatic performance in Punch-Drunk Love.
Vega could not speak English when filming began and a translator was on set during filming so that she could communicate with the director.
Leachman replaced Anne Bancroft, who dropped out of the part after four weeks of shooting because of illness.
The film received mixed reviews. Based on 165 reviews collected by the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 53% of critics gave Spanglish a positive review, with critical consensus being "Paz Vega shines, and Adam Sandler gives a performance of thoughtfulness and depth, but Spanglish is ultimately undermined by sitcommy plotting and unearned uplift.". Its proponents claim it is a moving portrayal of the difficulty of family problems and self-identity (and perhaps to a lesser extent the difficulties and rewards of cross-cultural communication). Advocates of the film found the intense sexual chemistry between Leoni and Sandler particularly compelling. Some critics described the film as "uneven", "awkward" (where John and Flor attempt to bare their souls to one another...[with] lots of words coming out of their mouths, but there doesn’t seem to be a context), and "The supporting performers deserve better, especially... Cloris Leachman, who's consigned to a demeaning role...[and] the butt of rather mean-spirited jokes."
Hans Zimmer was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. Cloris Leachman was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress.