Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: James L. Brooks and crew commentary.
DVD-ROM screenplay. Deleted scenes with optional commentary. Casting
sessions featurette. How to make the World's greatest sandwich
featurette featuring Thomas Keller. Making of.
JAMES L Brooks has been responsible for some of the most richly
rewarding comedy dramas in recent years, including As Good As
It Gets and Terms of Endearment.
Sadly, his latest, Spanglish, fails to reach such heights, despite
a winning Hollywood breakthrough from Spanish actress, Paz Vega,
and a blisteringly restrained Adam Sandler.
The main problem with Spanglish lies with another of the central
performers, Tea Leoni, whose excruciating turn threatens to undermine
everything, especially given the unsatisfactory turn of events.
The film follows the fortunes of Vega's fiesty Mexican single
mother, Flor, who arrives in America determined to provide a better
life for her daughter (the excellent Shelbie Bruce).
Forced to become a housekeeper for an affluent Beverly Hills
family (headed by Sandler and Leoni's Mr & Mrs Clusky), Flor
unwittingly finds herself moving in with them and thereby being
drawn into the conflicts that are threatening to tear them apart.
For despite not being able to speak a word of English at first,
Flor's morals and values have a bearing on all of the Cluskys,
all of whom subsequently respond in different ways.
For Sandler's compassionate family-man and emerging chef, John
Clasky, Flor provides a surprising ally - someone who has a similarly
unwavering and sincere commitment to her children as himself.
Hence, John finds himself attracted to Flor, not just because
of her looks, but because of her openness and decency.
Their relationship is in stark contrast to that which he shares
with his highly-strung wife, Deborah (Leoni), a 'bipolar egomaniacal
neurotic' who is going through an identity crisis triggered by
the recent loss of her job.
Deborah is no longer the wife or
mother John fell in love with and his inability to communicate
with her brings on many frustrations, not least of which is her
treatment of the rest of his family.
Her daughter (Sarah Steele), especially, is in danger of becoming
estranged, given that Deborah insists on buying her clothes that
are a couple of sizes too small in a bid to get her to lose weight.
While her mother (played brilliantly by Cloris Leachman) is forced
to watch from the sidelines in alcoholic despair as Deborah sets
about destroying everything she has helped to create, particularly
when she also starts having an affair.
The film which results is described in its publicity as 'a wittily
perceptive collision of cultures and values, and a refreshingly
honest look at such life-altering commitments as marriage, parenting
and devotion to family'.
And, for the most part, it succeeds thanks to Brooks' penchant
for writing great dialogue and his ability to direct believable
Sadly, by opting to remain a little too honest, Brooks serves
up a disappointing resolution that sends out all manner of mixed
messages that are neither convincing nor wholly satisfactory.
Most of the problems lie with Leoni, a character so deeply unsympathetic,
that the whole film becomes annoying whenever she is around.
Watching her shriek through every scene is akin to listening
to someone running their fingernails along a blackboard and while
the actress is probably merely conveying the intentions of the
director in utterly convincing fashion, she is just as likely
to alienate audiences as she is her family.
It's a shame, given that so much of the rest of the movie makes
for a pleasurable experience.
Vega, in particular, provides both an alluring presence and a
deeply principled turn that makes rooting for her easy, while
Sandler builds on the great work he did in Punch
Drunk Love to prove there is much more to him than no-brainer
His relationship with Vega is wonderfully conveyed and enriches
the film whenever it is given the time and space to do so.
Sadly, though, the reality that Brooks is trying to convey comes
crashing in around them, thereby leaving viewers with something
of an unpleasant after-taste.