Combustible Celluloid
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With: Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Sarah Steele, Shelbie Bruce, Thomas Haden Church
Written by: James L. Brooks
Directed by: James L. Brooks
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content and brief language
Running Time: 130
Date: 12/17/2004

Spanglish (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Servant Dish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director James L. Brooks returns from a seven-yearabsence with this supposed cross-cultural comedy. Like many of his films, it'sloaded with great bits of writing and plenty of character traits for talentedactors to sink their chops into. It very nearly gets to the same soap operalevel of tear-jerking that his Oscar-winner Terms of Endearment reached. But it leaves too many nagging questionsand steers away from too many ideas to achieve greatness. Successful chef JohnClasky (Adam Sandler) lives with his neurotic wife Deborah (Tea Leoni), theirdaughter Bernice (Sarah Steele) and her mother Evelyn (Cloris Leachman). Toease the household burden, Deborah hires a ridiculously gorgeous Mexican maid,Flor (Paz Vega), who has a daughter of her own (Shelbie Bruce). The movie rollsalong at a carefree pace while Deborah has an offscreen affair with a realestate agent (Thomas Haden Church) and her passive husband slowly drifts awayfrom her and toward the warm, comfortable Flor. Everyone gets a subplot:Deborah worries about her place in the world and overcompensates by jogging.She also worries about her daughter's weight and buys clothes that are toosmall in hopes of encouraging her. Mom drinks too much, but sobers up with notrouble when her wisdom is required. And John worries that his restaurant willget too good a review and attract too much attention, while Flor slowly learnsEnglish and gets too involved with her Anglo family. (Why the white characterscouldn't learn a bit of Spanish is never addressed.) The entire ensemble isexcellent, including Sandler and making special note of Vega's English languagedebut (she was previously seen in Sex and Lucia and Talk to Her). With these characters Brooks conjures up a few devastatinglytruthful moments, and the overall result feels just about right.

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