When movie trailers come out months before the release of a film and movie billboards crowd the malls and other places trying to convince the public of what to expect (read 'how can we guarantee making the most money from the biggest crowd?'), it is difficult to get motivated to step over the hype and decide for yourself the merits and message of a little movie.
SPANGLISH used slapstick approach, beginning with focus on Adam Sandler of the superfluff/toilet mouth 'comedy' genre, to publicize this little story into a COMEDY. That was enough to keep this viewer out of the theater. But seeing James L. Brooks current opus at home without all the hoopla of the theater crowd resulted in a pleasant discovery: this is a well-written little drama, peppered with some comedy, that addresses a lot of issues about parenting, cross-ethnicity, living your dream vs skimming off the top, having loyalty to the inner self, the desperate need for communication in today's loud world, alcoholism, etc. Not the stuff for slapstick, nor is it treated that way.
John Clasky (Adam Sandler in a straight role that allows him to show substance over pratt falls) is a successful chef who is able to support his family with a home in Beverly Hills and a summer home at the beach (obviously Malibu). His wife Deborah (Tea Leoni in a wildly dysfunctional mother role which she handles well), in desperation for breathing room to pursue her lackluster life, hires a non-English speaking Latina maid Flor (Paz Vega) who has immigrated to the US with her young daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce, a amazingly bilingual young actress) to make a life for herself after her husband has left her. Deborah's daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele) is overweight and the victim of her mother's misconstrued attempts to correct her problem at the expense of acknowledging Bernice's self worth.
Though busy with his successful restaurant, John finds time to be a loving father, a husband who is as supportive of his wild wife as is possible, and who gradually finds in the new Flor a gentle, honest, compassionate/passionate human being that seems to be a soul mate. Things progress quickly: Flor learns English via language tapes on TV, Cristina moves in with the family when the move to Malibu occurs, Deborah dotes on the bright, attractive Cristina while ignoring her own daughter, Flor tends to the emotions of Bernice, and finally a marital crisis occurs which places into focus the idiosyncrasies of all members of the extended household (including Deborah's alcoholic mother - Cloris Leachman, as brilliant as ever).
The manner in which Brooks brings this chaos to closure does not sell out the way most stories do: there are no pat answers here but altered individual perceptions are suggested and we are given the opportunity to resolve them as we wish. Is this a comedy? No, though there are many cleverly funny lines and situations. This is a pertinent drama, unfortunately mislabeled in name and in media approach. For this reviewer this is a tender film about family needs and personal goals. The cast is excellent, each member taking risks that prove to be successful. Give it a try! Grady Harp, April 05
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Grady Harp (gradyharp)
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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Anyone familiar with writer/director James L. Brooks (Broadcast News,As Good As It Gets) knows the man has a real feel for interesting women and a disarming way with a one-liner. The main women inSpanglishare Deborah Clasky (Téa Leoni), a moneyed SoCal mom, and non-English speaking Flor Moreno (Paz Vega), the beautiful Latina whom Deborah hires as a housekeeper. The one-liners, some of them amusing, are everywhere. Brooks provides an intriguing set-up for the two women to butt heads--Deborah's pudgy daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele) needs the affection at which Flor excels, while Flor's clever, bi-lingual daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) is enamored of the financial advantages Deborah can provide--then proceeds to make Deborah so hatefully ignorant you can't imagine why her neuroses are the main thrust of the film. And Deborah's celebrated chef husband John (Adam Sandler, way over his head) is such a perfect parent he doesn't seem human--what happened to the Brooks who hadTerms of Endearmentmom Debra Winger turn to her scowling little boy and grunt "Don't make me hit you in the street"? Cloris Leachman has a nifty supporting role as Deborah's boozy, ex-jazz singer mother, but it's only one offbeat chord in an earnest film that hits all the wrong notes.--Steve Wiecking