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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.27%
Worth A Look40.82%
Just Average: 28.57%
Pretty Crappy: 12.24%
Sucks: 5.1%

8 reviews, 50 user ratings

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by Brad Wilber

"James L. Brooks plays with Malibu Barbs"
4 stars

James L. Brooks is the king of the cleverly turned truism. I’m not asking him to give up pride of place yet, but I do ask myself whether or not a collection of such lines still adds up to moving human drama, especially when more recent Brooks films have lacked something at the core. I’m probably the only person on the planet who thinks so, but I find 1997's AS GOOD AS IT GETS bilious and hollow; it rides Brooks’s reputation for pathos rather than truly generating any. The brand-new SPANGLISH is a somewhat better film, to my mind, but it falls prey to some of the same problems. Speeches that felt pithy and revelatory in the 1980s now seem a bit laborious and self-congratulatory—worked up to, so that when we arrive at these Pearls of Wisdom they are indeed in capital letters. Because most Brooks films are separated by spacious interims, other directors have come to the fore with much subtler work (shunning capital letters; e.e. cummings would be proud) in “domestic” stories. Case in point: most of the Oscar nominations that might have gone to SPANGLISH a decade ago are likely going to Alexander Payne’s SIDEWAYS this year.

SPANGLISH unfolds with Mexican immigrant Flor Moreno (Paz Vega of SEX AND LUCIA and TALK TO HER) applying for work as a housekeeper with L.A. chef John Clasky (Adam Sandler) and his wife Deborah (Téa Leoni). John is a superlative culinary talent, but he is so unassuming that he fears receiving a four-star rating from a food critic will turn him too elitist. Deborah is a former career woman who has been downsized into full-time motherhood to Bernice (Sarah Steele) and Georgie (Ian Hyland). Flor’s interview has to take place with a translator at the table, and the only real meeting of the minds that happens is that Deborah, after several attempts, learns to roll the “r” in Flor’s name. Deborah is so juiced after this dubious triumph that she hires Flor on the spot. From there, Flor finds herself spending the summer with the Claskys at their Malibu beach house, and she brings along her impressionable daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) despite grave misgivings about introducing her to this heady sphere.

An uneasy mixture of intimacy and discord ensues as each parent gets entangled in the heartaches and aspirations of children who are not their own. When Deborah buys Bernice’s clothes a size too small to goad her into dieting, Flor takes it upon herself to let them out. Deborah, disappointed in her daughter’s pudgy plainness, focuses on the unadorned but beautiful Cristina, who makes an avid makeover subject and an ideal candidate for a scholarship to Bernice’s ritzy private school. Flor and John warm to each other as they both worry about how a blue-blood education will shape their daughters’ identities, but she is underwhelmed by him as Man of the House: he addresses his wife as tentatively as one might speak to a caged beast while the tranquilizer dart takes effect. SPANGLISH fulfills a lot of the story’s potential as it examines affluent people and their live-in domestic help navigating treacherous relationship boundaries.

But Brooks doesn’t have the film firmly in his grasp. He’s having more and more trouble conjuring the complex, sympathetic female leads of his earlier films. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT is all about men struggling to keep pace with the backbone and verve of Aurora and Emma Greenway. BROADCAST NEWS (my pick as Brooks’s crowning achievement) is ruled by the lovably workaholic Jane Craig, who upholds professional and personal integrity by sidestepping romantic relationships with two male colleagues, one a little too willing to be false and one a little too willing to be cruel. AS GOOD AS IT GETS has a stalwart, wisecracking single mom in Carol Connelly, but she is written less winningly and she is further blunted by the limitations of Helen Hunt, who can’t create any characterization more than a stone’s throw from Jamie Buchman (the only reason I don’t begrudge Hunt her Oscar is that I didn’t like any of the other nominated performances in 1997 any better). With SPANGLISH, we have in Deborah Clasky a singularly repugnant rich white woman. Every moment she is on the screen she is the epitome of oblivious insensitivity and hyper-verbal self-involvement. Watching her has its rewards because of the sheer wealth of nasty detail and because Leoni plays her with such brilliant shrill abandon, but you wonder why her creator didn’t give her a few virtues.

Brooks also does Flor a disservice, in a way. OK, he intends her to be the total package as a woman and as a mother, and she is, but the character could just as easily have been played by an Anglo actress. All the interesting points being made here are solely about a socioeconomic divide; there’s no delving at all into Latino culture specifically or ethnic differences in general. So the title of the film and the language barrier that is milked for so much of the first half (Flor eventually learns English via a series of commercial audiovisual aids) fall a bit flat. As Flor rattles on in Spanish and tries to interpret her employers’ English instructions, Paz Vega takes us through an admirably diverse repertory of quizzical gestures—shrugs, drawn eyebrows, head cocks, and chin juts. The rest of her performance is everything one could wish for in luminous indignation.

This outing will not derail Adam Sandler’s plans to integrate more dramatic work into his resume. He’s very engaging and genuine in this part. But John is not a very formidable foil for either woman, and that’s at least partly a Sandler issue. He can only benefit from more practice on characters that have stepped fully into adulthood. Yes, there are some elements in the character of John that should echo the put-upon, maladroit man-child that Sandler usually plays, but there are too many times here when John loses stature because Adam shifts into that Muppet-like version of his real voice. What would someone like Brooks alum Greg Kinnear, or Sam Rockwell, or even John Corbett have done with this part?

Cloris Leachman, a Brooks collaborator during their “Mary Tyler Moore Show” years, plays Deborah’s mother Evelyn, a retired chanteuse. She is the perfect mouthpiece for the movie’s most insouciant lines. Sarah Steele has very individual presence as Bernice, making her wry but not terminally disaffected, and vulnerable but not Damaged Goods. Shelbie Bruce’s Cristina also seems very natural, more girlie without being more vapid.

I think SPANGLISH could have salvaged many of its story problems if it had aimed higher with its ending. Instead, the last half-hour is unforgivably lowbrow. It turns out that Deborah has been cheating on John with her real estate broker (a fleeting cameo by Thomas Haden Church), but surely her failings are numerous enough already, and she and John have plenty to resolve without adding illicit sex to the mix. Anyhow, with that provocation, John entertains the idea of an affair with Flor. But having the two of them engage in a cheap will-we-or-won't-we debate tramples the satisfying ambiguity of the other layers of affinity between them. Well, at least the extreme and specific nature of Deborah's transgression startles Evelyn into putting aside her vodka tumbler and mustering some sage maternal advice.

I have to go with fours stars here, since, in the local parlance, that translates to "worth a look." James L. Brooks is always worth a look, even slightly off his game. But the trend in his movies toward the heavy-handed seems to be cause for concern--I'd be curious to see if he would do better next time out adapting someone else's material, as he did with ENDEARMENT. A great novel with the Brooks knack for the screen is a nice prospect.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11350&reviewer=395
originally posted: 12/29/04 22:13:55
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User Comments

3/29/16 Perplexed Lovely "Hollywood" story. I'm f/Latam;no Latin would pull her child f/a good school! 4 stars
7/11/12 Gaudencio Mucu Very good movie 4 stars
10/27/09 the dork knight Bullshit ending topedoes excellent work done by director and cast alike. 4 stars
8/06/09 Simon Brooks' writing infuses the characters with such sincere humanity, especially in dialogue 5 stars
7/23/08 Shaun Wallner Sandler makes some great films! 4 stars
1/09/07 johnnyfog Huh. Sandler and Leoni can act? Freaky 4 stars
11/04/06 misty I thought it was great. Actors seemed very real. 5 stars
10/05/06 chika the movie is interesting for me, i decide to analyze that movie as my thesis in my college 3 stars
8/28/06 Lily P Cool movie! GO AND SEE IT!! 4 stars
8/07/06 2007 titan poker titan poker 100$ 5 stars
7/10/06 Marty very good dialogue, takes a patient viewer tho 5 stars
7/07/06 NS BAD!!! I was enraged and dissapointed. 2 stars
6/04/06 mary not good 1 stars
5/01/06 Anthony Feor Sandler goes downhill even more 1 stars
4/02/06 Dog Surfer I'd give it 4 3/4 stars as would John Clasky. Paz Vega is wonderfully expressive. 5 stars
3/11/06 Shaun Wallner YAWN BOring 2 stars
11/30/05 Lauren loved the movie, especially the ending. No matter what happens, she'll still be proud, 5 stars
11/30/05 K NOT my kind of move...i LOVED it!! so will u 4 stars
11/27/05 Karen Manipulative nonsense 1 stars
11/25/05 Smitty I'm sorry, Vega is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen - her expressions are wonderful. 4 stars
8/29/05 ES That egg sandwich he made looked good, probably the best part of the movie 3 stars
8/14/05 KCobain Wow! Great ending that separates this from typical hollywood fare. 5 stars
8/07/05 George Jetson Muddled story; Sandler doesn't act, he just sort of mumbles his way through the scenes 2 stars
8/01/05 Ondrej Horror! Horror! One of the worst movies I have ever seen. 1 stars
6/23/05 azpinoy Paz Vega is very hot! 3 stars
6/22/05 Angie Erickson didn't care for this 2 stars
6/20/05 darick Would have been 4 but for the ending. 3 stars
6/03/05 The Mockingbird surprised my being really good, so heartfelt and hardly a false note 5 stars
5/27/05 Christina I fell in love with this movie! 5 stars
5/05/05 Taylor Fladgate Tried to like it...but couldn't. And, horrible ending. 3 stars
4/07/05 Scott Lamont Waaay better than I expected. Excellent character development, one and all. 4 stars
3/25/05 Denise sandler is great 4 stars
3/18/05 Rachel I laughed, cried, and wanted more Tea, Adam, Cloris, and Paz 5 stars
3/14/05 brody paz vega was good 4 stars
2/21/05 ELI Um...It was ok. Ending was sucky and I couldn't connect w/ anyone 3 stars
2/18/05 Jennifer DePoalo funny and cute, but could have improved the ending 3 stars
2/15/05 Melody Arneil Adam Sandler proves he can go on beyond the one note/potty humor films he's known for 4 stars
1/31/05 Danita Berg Wow...Paz is beautiful. Sandler tries to hard to be meloncholy. 3 stars
1/28/05 govenar too melodramatic 3 stars
1/15/05 Jeff Anderson A big disappointment. Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, and especially Paz Vega are great however. 2 stars
1/07/05 Vicki Great actors, great director, promising premise but I was expecting more from the film. 4 stars
12/25/04 Sandya Swamy I truly enjoyed the film; it is one of the best American films I have seen in a while. 5 stars
12/22/04 Smitty THE perfect date movie, well cast & acted, excellent screenplay.Vega's closeups are amazing 4 stars
12/22/04 Emile S. Siman Needs to be trimmed--bad script. 2 stars
12/20/04 ramjan02 ramjan02@yahoo.com 5 stars
12/12/04 Jim Lochner Very good not great 4 stars
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  17-Dec-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Apr-2005



Directed by
  James L. Brooks

Written by
  James L. Brooks

  Adam Sandler
  Téa Leoni
  Cloris Leachman
  Paz Vega
  Allen Covert
  Ian Hyland

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