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Spanglish
2004 - PG-13 - 100 Mins.
Director: James L. Brooks
Producer: Julie Ansell, James L. Brooks
Written By: James L. Brooks
Starring: Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Shelbie Bruce
Review by: Greg Ursic
Official Site: www.sonypictures.com/movies/spanglish/
   

You're not getting away that easily.
The Clasky clan is your typical family -- well, for Bel-Air maybe: John (Adam Sandler) the mild-mannered patriarch is a world renowned chef whose goal is to avoid the limelight, while Deborah a.k.a. mom (Tea Leone) is a type A obsessed image neurotic. Evelyn (Cloris Leachman), the live in mother-in-law has a passion for the grape and understatement, while the kids -– bubbly and bulky Bernice and Georgie -- seem remarkably well adjusted. The already palpable tension spikes when Flor (Paz Vega) the unilingual Mexican maid and her daughter join the household.

This movie is being marketed as a James Brooks ('As Good As It Gets') comedy as opposed to an Adam Sandler vehicle in the hopes that audiences won’t go in expecting juvenile frat boy humor. Unfortunately many of the reviewers appear not to have seen the marketing, and decry the serious themes and somewhat erudite humor. Too bad for them. This was one of the few films that I’ve seen recently where I’ve occasionally glanced at my watch in the hopes that it wouldn’t be over too soon.

The story examines life and its many quirks within families, classes and cultures. Brooks avoids taking the easy way out, and makes the audience think – most of Vega’s dialogue is in Spanish and there are no subtitles. Consequently, the viewer experiences the characters’ frustration firsthand as they struggle to communicate with one another, which in turn draws you into the story.

Adam Sandler has shelved his moronic explosive persona for a subdued, thoughtful character that allows him to expand on the dramatic range he explored in 'Punch Drunk Love.' John, a family man, is grounded in spite of his fame, but finds himself at odds with his wife’s ideas of child rearing. Tea Leoni displays a fluidity and spark that has remained elusive since her days on the quirky sitcom Flying Blind. It would easy to turn Deborah into a caricature, but Leoni makes her believable. A narcissist, she is unaware of the pain she causes to those around her when attempting to make them look their best (of course she does this to make herself look better). Cloris Leachman will surely be looking at a best supporting actress nomination for her role as Evelyn, the one person in the piece who actually seems to know what’s going on. Not only is she wonderfully understated, but she also has the lion’s share of the film’s best lines – I was laughing or gasping each time she said something. Shelbie Bruce and Sarah Steele (who play Cristina and Bernice respectively) demonstrate a maturity beyond their years, and serve to cement the delicate relationships between the families. And then there is Pas Vega.

Paz Vega ('The Other Side of the Bed') - who looks like a cross between Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek - possesses a luminous charisma that translates into powerful screen presence. Flora’s strength and pride are balanced by her vulnerability for her daughter – she lives for Cristina rather than through her. It is when those bonds are threatened that her fire emerges. The sultry beauty also has the gift of great comedic timing.

'Spanglish' is flush with witty dialogue, fleshed out characters, and isn’t afraid to get into the dark side of relationships without becoming maudlin or being bogged down. It is a flash of everyday dysfunctionality without the storybook ending, but still holds out a thread of hope. This joins 'Sideways' as one of my favorite comedy/dramas this year.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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