SPANGLISH (director/writer: James L. Brooks; cinematographer: John Seale; editor: Richard Marks; music: Hans Zimmer; cast: Adam Sandler (John Clasky), Téa Leoni (Deborah Clasky), Paz Vega (Flor), Cloris Leachman (Evelyn), Shelbie Bruce (Cristina), Sarah Steele (Bernice); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Richard Sakai/James L. Brooks; Columbia Pictures; 2004)
“Phony bourgeois film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
James Brooks (“Terms of Endearment”/”Broadcast News”/”As Good as It Gets”) is the writer-director of this sitcom lightweight romantic/comedy that’s set in Los Angeles. It pretends to have some heft and something to say about neurotics, mother and daughter relationships, illegal immigrants, racial relations and class differences. This overly ambitious film is about a dysfunctional upper-middle-class family, living in a Bel Air mansion, the Claskys, with celebrity chef John Clasky (Adam Sandler) as the patriarch and his mentally unbalanced and self-obsessed stay-at-home wife Deborah (Tea Leoni), and their two neglected children–a son and a lacking in self-esteem due to overweight problems daughter (Sarah Steele)–and Deborah’s live-in alcoholic mother Evelyn (Cloris Leachman).
The Claskys pay well and hire single mother, gorgeous, selfless, saintly Mexican maid Flor (Paz Vega) and Deborah requests she bring her English-speaking daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) to also live-in their residence. Flor illegally crossed the border six years ago to give her daughter better opportunities and has lived within L.A.’s Latino community ever since. She speaks only Spanish and the international language of good housekeeping and parenting. The ineffectual John allows his nutty wife to run the house, while he frets about thing such as keeping his restaurant’s four-star rating in the New York Times–worried that he can be spoiled by success (now that’s something to fret about in lala land!).
The nagging and shrewish Deborah neglects her own children in the same way that her bad parent mother neglected her. The sensitive chef is only shocked and dismayed when he discovers his wife’s affair with the real estate broker selling them a beach house. This pushes him into a relationship with strong poor woman Flor.
Sandler’s character comes off as being a likable and mild-mannered guy who doesn’t know how to handle his bossy nutcase wife, and often goes into amusing and unpredictable rants. He’s the best thing about this flick, and his modulated performance becomes the only thing to turn to as things get tedious and shrill.
The film is narrated by Cristina, who has applied for admissions to Princeton and her essay about mom being the most influential person in her life is being read (if I were the admission director, I would reject her on the basis of this sappy essay).
After the poor viewer gets a heavy dose of immigration angst (finding employment, overcoming the language barrier, and assimilation) and is lectured to in meaningless multicultural rhetoric about the immigrant’s problems, this phony bourgeois film (made by clueless patronizing liberals) prattles on that the rich can also be unhappy and leaves us with its final vacuous message: Be nice to the help or else! It was that kind of a smug superficial film that suffered from complacency, miscommunication, continually patting itself on the back for its sham feel-good message and looking like a TV production.
REVIEWED ON 11/13/2005 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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