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Spanglish (12A)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

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 relationships.

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 comedies.

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.

Click here to find out more about Spanglish!



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