James L. Brooks's newest addition to his Oscar triumvirate of 'Terms of Endearment', 'Broadcast News' and 'As Good As It Gets' is 'Spanglish', a romantic comedy targeted for a broader and more open - minded audience.
Written with the emblematic twists of character, human frailties exposure and wit we have come to love, 'Spanglish' six main characters outshine - as individual performances the movie as a whole. But, they carry this film a considerable distance. They draw the viewer behind the facade and remote gated driveway of the attractive, contemporary and comfortable looking Bel Aire home where one sees not only an American dream fulfilled but a dream family that is living on a low calorie emotional diet.
Adam Sandler, making a very tidy and interesting escape from his angry comedy persona is John Clasky, Master Chef and gentle, loving dad. His lovely but neurotic, narcissistic and driven wife, Deborah, is played with terrific physical and emotional commitment by Tea Leoni. She actually challenges us to not really like her at all - yet somehow manages to leave one with the impression that she bears no malice; it is just difficult to drive her much like all-the-bells-and-whistles Cadillac Esplanade she commands in the picture. Mild-mannered and sweetheart daughter Bernice, played convincingly by Philly native Sarah Steele defines what the term "good kid" really means. Also, as Deborah's mother Evelyn, the clever comedy veteran Cloris Leachman gets her share of deftly written laughs and more than everyone's share of liquor.
Into this dreamy, seductive and fault-zone adjacent home with big pool marches the dazzling and solid immigrant mom turned nanny/housekeeper, Flor, played with remarkable emotive and expressive agility by the popular and talented Spanish actress, Paz Vega. Vega's Flor, guarded and hesitant, sustains her existence all for her daughter, Cristina, (Shelbie Bruce) who is equally dazzling and intelligent. When Flor is expected to join the Claskys in their incredible Malibu summer rental she reluctantly thrusts her once sheltered and carefully raised daughter into this wild California surf and turf.
Showcasing the standout Vega, who learned English as the film was being shot, her lovely and charming Flor must learn English too. She communicates to the audience despite the lack of English subtitles to translate her Spanish; A clever and wise Brooks feature. Staying up late to finish language tapes she is seen in a new light: A stronger and more verbally adept employee that questions Deborah's motivations and a caring compatriot that soft dad Sandler can understand and bond with even if he is somewhat vague in managing his own family issues.
Here is where this picture really takes off and then takes off again. Flor's determination to maintain her Mexican cultural continuity and raise Cristina with proper values is sorely confronted by Deborah's desire to covet and showcase the type of child she apparently wishes Bernice was. It is the departures from reality as we know it that may test some to really embrace this picture.
But yet, socially challenged as it may be, Spanglish really pushes us to look beyond conventional wisdoms and ask the right questions: What is really important in the American Dream Home: Facades or family? And ultimately, that is what should matter in this picture as it pierced my heart and would not let go.
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