Beautiful young Mexican single mother Flor (Paz Vega) takes her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) to Los Angeles in search of better opportunities. When she gets a job as housekeeper at the Clasky family home, Flor walks into a troubled marriage, in which John (Adam Sandler) is a successful chef and a loving, patient father to their two young children, while Deborah (Tea Leoni) has lost her job and is going through a personal crisis; they're not managing. Deborah's mother (Cloris Leachman) observes in knowing silence, wineglass in hand...for most of the time. When the Claskys rent a Malibu beach house for the summer, Deborah assumes Flor will move in for the period, and bring her daughter. Flor, reluctantly agrees, but Deborah's behaviour causes friction, Flor and John find an unstated understanding and the household begins to spiral out of control.
Review by Louise Keller:
Spanglish is an endearing as its title, as cultures, tempers and temperaments collide in a delectable comedy drama filled with laughter and tears. Written and directed by James L. Brooks (As Good As It Gets), Spanglish explores human nature, change and the resistance to change. The big dilemma that faces the characters is whether to embrace being different, or to blend in with the crowd. Adam Sandler's hair is a little longer than usual and he shows all the signs of moving away from the no-brainer comedies we are used to seeing him play. He plays John Clasky, a successful chef whose redeeming features lie beyond the kitchen in his calm, rational nature. He is the total opposite of his neurotic wife Deborah (Tea Leoni is superb), who spends all her pent up frustration orchestrating her family since her career has screeched to a hasty halt.
When Flor (Paz Vega) enters the life of the Clasky family, she doesn't expect her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) to springboard into their way of life. And she is resentful when Deborah takes Cristina under her wing. After all, the slim, bright twelve year old fits in the mould of what she aspires for her own daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele, superb), who is slightly overweight. Cloris Leachman is a scene stealer as the household sage, a drink loving former jazz-singer whose experience of life becomes Deborah's saving grace as life turns upside down. She spits out gems like 'Lately your low self-esteem is just common sense' to her daughter, and John aptly observes a gender should be named after her.
It is not only the language that confronts Flor, but a way of life so foreign that it defies translation. When Cristina translates for her mother during an emotional moment with John, she not only translates the words, but acts out all the emotions as well. It's a wonderful scene that borders on the ridiculous, yet tugs at emotional undercurrents. In her experience of Latin men, Flor has never come across a sensitive new age guy like John, who has all his priorities sorted and bares his emotions easily. Of course it's inevitable that their relationship heads for a romantic liaison, but Brooks is careful to keep the storyline focused, allowing the resolution about identity to come to its natural conclusion.
Spanglish is the thinking man's comedy, and although a little long and overcooked, is a warmly entertaining treat nonetheless.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
James L. Brooks tries very hard to make a meaningful comedy about parenting across cultural divides. Or is it about romance across married lines? Or is it really about the role of mothers; one white middle class and suburban, one Latin and single, and one old and evidently with a rickety past as mother. The fact that the screenplay tries to juggle so much thematic material is admirable, giving the audience a workout as its complexities intrude on our expectations of a straightforward comedy. Ah, but the complexities are so well developed that they start to break down the comedy into drama.
Tea Leoni is excellent as the wildly gyrating wife who has slipped her leash at a job and feels lost. But the observation here is so deeply felt that we are thrown out of the comedy into the darker spaces of contemporary suburban life. Adam Sandler, a walking melancholy-stick at the best of times, turns his calm into stoic resignation for the scenes of playing a resigned prisoner of his own making. To his credit, he has a couple of outbursts - in the safety space of his car.
Cloris Leachman is sensational as Deborah's mother, her pithy lines and throw-away looks working as the film's only reliable comic anchor, with enough world weary meaning to give them weight.
Paz Vega also excels as the Mexican beauty devoted to her daughter, and recognising a soul mate in that regard in Sandler's John. She speaks no English at first, and we see her learning the language with dedication. In fact, she seems to work harder at that than at housekeeping duties, which consist of collecting discarded newspapers.
The two young actresses (Shelbie Bruce, Sarah Steele) playing the daughters are both outstanding, and can take credit for propping up the film's core theme about parent-child relationships.
It's a bit overlong and laboured, but the heart is in the right place and John Seale's cinematography is impressive but unobtrusive.
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CAST: Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Shelbie Bruce, Sarah Steele, Ian Hyland, Victoria Luna, Cecilia Suárez
PRODUCER: Julie Ansell, James L. Brooks, Richard Sakai
DIRECTOR: James L. Brooks
SCRIPT: James L. Brooks
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Seale
EDITOR: Richard Marks
MUSIC: Hans Zimmer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ida Random
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 17, 2005