Adam Sandler returns to romantic comedy/drama in Spanglish, written and
directed by James L. Brooks, who has fine tuned the genre with
excellent scripts and sensitive acting (Terms of Endearment, As Good as
It Gets). It doesn't quite measure up to his best work, but that's
still saying something.
Deborah Clasky (Tea Leoni) hires a housekeeper/cook, Flor Moreno (Paz Vega), who doesn't speak English. Flor, a single mother, has a teenaged daughter, Cristina, and the two eventually move into a summer beach house with Leoni, her two kids, and husband, John Clasky (Adam Sandler), a world renowned chef. Deborah is a nervous, controlling type A personality, who has recently lost her job and begins to question her worth. Her subsequent actions such as lowering the self esteem of her overweight daughter, Bernice, and doting over Flor's daughter without mother's consent starts a sequence of events that pulls the two families apart and draw two frustrated, lonely people together, namely Sandler and Vega. They connect, of course, but what they do about it forms the focus of the storyline. At times this film thematically recalls classics like Roman Holiday or Brief Encounter.
The film begins in such a manner to make one think that it isn't anything special but builds its story and characters into solid foundations until you begin to care about what happens. This is almost two films thematically. There is the developing love story between Sandler and Vega, and there is also the story of Vega, the mother, and her daughter. This is not just a family torn apart or a budding, forbidden romance, it is also the core mother-daughter dynamic seen though the teenaged daughters and their respective mothers. The narrative from Cristina's point of view recalls I Remember Mama. And let us not forget the relationship of Deborah and her own mother (Cloris Leachman-a Brooks alumnus from The Mary Tyler Moore Show). The ending is a bit open ended for one storyline while the other is resolved quite nicely.
At times, the dialogue (a good portion is in Spanish and cleverly translated or communicated through context without subtitles) is crisp and sharp and other times, the story seems to tease without delivering and seemingly loses track until it gets reeled back by a brilliant line or two. Some of the situations seem a bit forced or going nowhere but Brooks has spoiled his audiences with his top flight writing over the years. It is remarkable that he can show lesser filmmakers how to write and construct a superior screenplay about people that an audience cares about. He makes stories about people that matter.
Tea Leoni is good in her role as the neurotic housewife who becomes self absorbed. At times her character downright grates on the nerves, and you wonder how a man like Sandler's compassionate, loving husband/father, puts up with her behavior. Sandler does fine with his down-to-earth, dramatic role which contrasts with his quirky romantic in Punch Drunk Love. One wonders what a stronger persona like Brooks alumnus Jack Nicholson or even Tom Hanks would have done with his role. All the supporting roles are effective as usual. Leachman registers as the mother who consoles her adult daughter and is the voice of reason despite being the family alcoholic. Even the family dog becomes a small but noteworthy supporting character. There is also an amusing cameo by Thomas Haden Church who plays a character not unlike his more substantial role in Sideways.
Production values are strong across the board particularly in the cinematography by John Seale. But it's really all about the writing and the acting. The film feels like it wants to be something more but settles for the quality of a moderate Brooks film like Broadcast News. The film will elicit laughs and some tears but it is consistently engaging. Wouldn't it be nice if more films could even reach that level of writing and acting? Is this a great film? No. It is merely a well written story, and that's pretty good on its own.
Action / Comedy / Drama / Romance
Action / Comedy / Drama / Romance
John Clasky is a devoted dad whose skills as a chef have offered his family a very upscale life, including a summer home in Malibu and a breathtaking new Mexican housekeeper, named Flor. She and her daughter Cristina have recently emigrated to L.A. from Mexico and are trying to find a better life. When they move in with the Claskys for the summer, Flor has to fight for her daughter's soul as she discovers that life in a new country is perilous!
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