Monday, January 03, 2005


Spanglish (Director: James L. Brooks) Release date: December 17, 2004

James L. Brooks is a part of two pieces of entertainment that will always be treasured by me, as executive producer of "The Simpsons" and for the writing/directing of Broadcast News. For many others, his films Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets will be remembered fondly, although I think those films pale in comparison to the other work. The other film Brooks is known for, and for bad reasons, is I'll Do Anything, which was a musical until all of the songs were cut out. Mainly, Brooks is a TV veteran, creating "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Taxi" in addition to being the writer on several classic shows like "Andy Griffith" and "My Three Sons," just to name a few. He also produced two Cameron Crowe films in Say Anything... and Jerry Maguire.

Kind of hard to believe, but this is only Brooks' fifth film since his debut with Terms of Endearment. His sort of trademark style is the comedy/drama, with cutting dialogue, and here these talents are on display in a movie that has been punished for lots of reasons, mainly, Tea Leoni's character Deborah Clasky, who is so neurotic and unaware of the harm she does, that there seems to be no hope for her at all.

It's the story of a Mexican woman, Flor (the sizzling Paz Vega), taking her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) to Los Angeles and trying to survive in America, which after six years leads to her hiring as a housekeeper at the Clasky home. John Clasky (Adam Sandler) is a first-rate chef, married to Deborah, and they have two kids, Bernice (Sarah Steele) and Georgie (Ian Hyland). We see Deborah's foibles early on, as she buys clothes that are too small for her growing daughter, saying it's a good thing because it will encourage her to lose weight. This causes Flor to get involved, and it becomes the beginning of the two families intermingling and exposing their real desires, fears, and boundaries in life.

I remember watching Finding Neverland and finding nothing wrong with it. There just wasn't much enjoyable in it, either. Here, there's a lot of enjoyable scenes, but it never gels into an overall, complete, great movie. I know Brooks had a hard time finishing this thing, and it shows. There are several scenes that your mind knows exist out there that have been excised. When Deborah starts showing favor towards the pretty, perfect Cristina, you know a tearful scene is there somewhere involving Bernice and her mother. And there are lots of places where the film seems to jump, as characters go missing for large stretches and loose ends are left untied.

Meanwhile, Adam Sandler gives one of the best performances of the year, which will go overlooked by the Academy for two reasons. One, this is a tremendous year for leading men, especially with all the biopics out there, and the fact that the Academy will always look upon guys like Sandler and Jim Carrey as amusing clowns who don't deserve consideration because they might stain the name of Oscar. I'd say a lot of people who have won the Oscar have stained it on their own (like Halle Berry)--but no one will acknowledge that. "We just can't give an Oscar nomination to the guy who played Opera Man on 'Saturday Night Live.'"

There's a classic somewhere in all the film Brooks shot, but it's not here. By all means, though, it's enjoyable and worth watching, especially for scenes involving Vega and Sandler. Tea Leoni is good even though her character, much like De Niro's in Meet the Fockers, can't rise above the sins she's committed. Bruce and Steele are both admirable child actors in a year full of great, great child performances.


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