Publicity Stills of "Spanglish" (Courtesy from Columbia TriStar)

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Director: James L. Brooks
Starring: Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman
RunTime: 2 hrs 10 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: PG

Released Date: 31 Mar 2005

Synopsis :

From 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.

Movie Review:

Adam 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 like fun?

Well, kind of.

This 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 Claskys together.

When 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.

Not 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?

Adam 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.

The 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.

Solid 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 by them.

It 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.

Movie Rating: C-

Review by Angeline Chui

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