The Arizona Republic
Dec. 17, 2004
Although amusing in places, Spanglish feels incomplete, as if it was overshot,
cut back and assembled with vital pieces missing.
In trying to fit his film into a two-hour-plus package, director James L. Brooks
kept the laughs but lost important links in the story.
The most crucial story element involves the main character, world-class chef
John Clasky (Adam Sandler), and his attraction to a newly hired housekeeper,
Flor (Paz Vega). But Brooks builds little foundation to support John's supposed
infatuation, and Flor's conservative persona keeps the movie in a box.
Unless Brooks (As Good as It Gets,
Terms of Endearment) is willing to betray his characters, which is not in his
makeup, Spanglish has no place to travel, except to an ambiguous resolution
that's neither satisfying nor unexpected.
On the upside, Spanglish is a fairly funny movie, if only for the presence of
Cloris Leachman (Bad Santa, The Last Picture Show), who gives a sidesplitting
performance as Clasky's mother-in-law, Evelyn, a heavy drinker who must sober up
to rescue her daughter, Deborah (Téa Leoni).
Deborah has recently left the workforce (probably not by choice) and has focused
her overachieving ways on her marriage and kids, with unsatisfying results.
Although John is the perfect husband, Deborah, no matter how hard she strives,
cannot make herself the perfect wife and mom.
She stumbles in dealing with her overweight daughter, Bernice (Sarah Steele),
buying the girl clothes that are a size too small. She's equally unresponsive to
her husband, almost forgetting he's there during a lovemaking session.
This is the best I've seen from Leoni (Deep Impact, Jurassic Park III), who
worked herself into great shape for the role - Deborah is a devoted runner - and
takes a chance by looking bedraggled on-screen. If anything, Leoni's previous
lightweight roles were tied to her undeniably good looks, but Spanglish gives
notice that David Duchovny's wife can act.
There is an impulse to declare the Spanish-born Vega (Talk to Her, Sex and
Lucia) a discovery, but she's really just the latest edition of Penélope Cruz.
She deserves credit for working in English - her character gradually learns the
language - but she's hardly what you take home from Spanglish.
Nor is Sandler. The best that can be said for him is that he holds his own, but
he hardly seems comfortable. As it turns out, when he takes off the red-hooded
sweatshirt and stops singing Hanukkah songs, Sandler comes off as earnest but
Spanglish deserves an audience because much of Brooks' writing is still strong
and fresh. The movie includes at least one terrific scene between Leoni and
Sandler, though you can feel Brooks coaching Sandler from just off camera.
But among Brooks' films, Spanglish fails to have much impact. His Terms of
Endearment and As Good as It Gets were helped along by the presence of Jack
Nicholson, who can do more with a single expression than Sandler can do by
leaping off a pier.
But don't worry. He'll do that in his next movie.
Reach Muller at (602) 444-8651.