Director: James L. Brooks
Starring: Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Paz Vega,
RunTime: 2 hrs 10 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Released Date: 31 Mar 2005
acclaimed multiple Oscar-winning writer/director/producer
James L. Brooks comes the comedy/drama Spanglish - a look
at cultures colliding as a beautiful native Mexican woman
Flor (Paz Vega), the mother of an equally stunning 12-year-old
girl, a golden child, becomes the housekeeper for an affluent
Los Angeles family (Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni and Cloris Leachman.)
Of all the horrifying pitfalls she worried of about in this
new culture, Flor had never fathomed the peril of bing truly
embraced by un upscaled American family.
Sandler, an emotionally erratic wife, an attractive maid,
her lovable daughter, an alcoholic retiree, a sensitive tween
and a little boy who warbles, all lost in translation. Sound
is Spanglish, written and directed by James L. Brooks, also
the one who helmed the 1997 Oscar-winning movie As Good As
It Gets. Spanglish is about an unlikely group of people trying
to be a family and trying to communicate, but essentially
helpless in both. Ironic, then, that it takes an outsider,
who knows no English and has a broken family, to bring the
a movie takes up a good portion of the first hour introducing
its main character, it becomes clear that the plot is of little
consequence. This is a dramedy so fixated on conveying its
characters that the storyline ends up feeble and ineffectual.
Considering the ingenuity of the core story, coupled with
a promising opening, Spanglish disappoints when it fails to
deliver to its potential.
to say that the characters are weak. Brooks has, to his credit,
created an assortment of very real people with immediately
recognizable traits. Bernice, with her image issues, is one;
Sarah Steele is confident and apt in her debut role. Even
Deborah, in all her unstable delirium, endears us when she
borders on escapism in the hilarious sequence where she refuses
Flor’s letter of confrontation - when was the last time
you said, “I don’t want to deal with this right
now!” to avoid conflict?
Sandler as the relatively low-key John Clasky is also a joy
to watch. In a role atypical of the wacky actor, Sandler is
unassuming but assured, and allows himself to be overshadowed
by Téa Leoni’s wild performance. Deborah could
have easily come on too strongly, but Téa Leoni is
able to balance her performance between “eccentric”
and “annoying”. It is mildly puzzling, however,
how these two ever came together. By the end of the show,
John would seem to be the ideal husband and father; devoted,
loving and gentle to a fault but assertive and successful
as a chef. In one of my favourite scenes, he prays for “three
and a quarter stars” for his restaurant, which seems
to affirm the fact that his kids, not his career, are his
pride. Or, that he’s just that nice guy.
rest of the cast are just as likeable and the group shares
genuine chemistry. Most notable are Paz Vega and Shelbie Bruce
who play Flor and Cristina. In one of the movie’s most
memorable scenes, Cristina serves as Flor’s translator
during an animated confrontation between the latter and John,
with Cristina miming Flor’s frantic gestures to comic
perfection. Cloris Leachman as the ex-jazz singer Evelyn is
cheeky and steals the scene with her whimsical quips, and
together with Georgie, the youngest son of the Claskys, they
provide one of the most amusing scenes in the entire film.
as the cast is, almost half of the characters are sadly under-written.
The entertaining Georgie appears in no more than six scenes
and even Bernice’s meaningful storyline is relegated
to a mere touch-and-go. The main flaw of the film still lies
in its weak plot, which seems undecided as to which way to
go. Is it about John and Flor, or the Clasky’s marriage?
We don’t really know. It could be about both, but the
result is tame. Brooks succeeds in engaging his audience via
his characters, but he alienates them at the same time by
leaving loose ends to their various conclusions. Simply said,
the movie succeeds in its characters, but is also hampered
must be noted, though, that the attempt is ambitious –
just not very well executed. A little too long for my tastes,
the details too loose to impress; Brooks is great at inspiring
moments of brilliance, but struggles at putting them together.
The result is lukewarm but enjoyable nonetheless, if one could
look past the lack of proper plot structure – not a
difficult task, since the cast is strong enough to more or
less hold the movie together.
by Angeline Chui