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USA 2004
Directed by
James L. Brooks
126 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars


Although writer-director-producer James L. Brooks had a surprise Oscar triumph with Terms Of Endearment (1983) which won a staggering five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and his film previous to this, As Good As It Gets (1997), which gave both Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt Oscars was an enjoyable rom-com, most of his work has been in television with an extraordinarily successful career creating iconic sit-coms stretching from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to The Simpsons.In essence Spanglish is a maladroit hybrid of the two forms.

The situation is that Mexican immigrant Flor Moreno (Paz Vega), single mother to Cristina (Shelbie Bruce), wants to give her daughter a better life in America and finds housekeeping work with Deborah and John Clasky (Téa Leoni and Adam Sandler) a well-to-do couple with two children of their own.  When the Claskys goes on holiday to Malibu,  Deborah, a highly-strung control freak, decides that Flor and her daughter should come with them. Flor agrees but cultural assumptions and parenting styles clash with some laughter but mostly tears.

The sit-com is parenthesized by its caricatural characters, cheap sets and canned laughter as disposable entertainment with few questions asked.  Transposed to the big screen even more so when plimped with plush production values its two-dimensionality becomes obvious. If the short voice-overed preamble to Spanglish prepares us for the sentimental moral to come, once we arrive at the Clasky’s home and we meets the gushingly vacuous Deborah, her kindly alcoholic mother (Cloris Leachman) and quirkily cute daughter (Sarah Steele) poolside in their up-scale Beverly Hills home, the shallowness of its execution is signaled loud and clear.

Brooks’s film  could have been good if played with some substantial measure of realism but Spanglish is never remotely credible in this respect  Leoni is actually quite amusing as a high maintenance, hyper image-conscious neurotic and Adam Sandler, in similar mode to his character in Punch-Drunk Love (2003), is also quite engaging but there’s no truth to either of their characters. Deborah is simply too hysterically self-obsessed, John too quietly diffident (hardly a quality for which high profile chefs are renowned ). And Vega, who looks remarkably like Penélope Cruz and/or Salma Hayek, is hardly plausible as representative of Mexican female domestic labour.  And there’s the rub. None of this would matter in the disposable form of the sitcom but for a film which purports to expose the bankruptcy of success American-style it misses its goal badly. From go to whoa there’s nothing at stake in this self-congratulatory, comfortably middle-class Hollywood fantasy.

Available from: Shock Entertainment




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