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.