James L Brooks’ Spanglish is a great movie. The writer – director brings us a sweet, funny film that is very entertaining and well acted throughout. It’s mostly about the relationship between a Mexican woman and her daughter, and how their lives change when the mother takes a job as a housekeeper for an affluent American family.
Adam Sandler plays a popular, soft spoken chef who’s married to a slightly psycho woman (Tea Leone) who’s kind of self-absorbed and doesn’t see how much she hurts her daughter (Sarah Steele) and doesn’t listen to her mother (Cloris Leachman) enough. When the new housekeeper (Paz Vega), and then her daughter (Shelbie Bruce), come into the mix, things get interesting. But this isn’t a wacky comedy where the Latin woman comes into the mix and shakes things up. This is a sweet movie. It’s funny, but it’s not a farce at all.
The two young ladies in Spanglish are excellent. Both characters are very well written, but Sarah Steele is wonderful as the self doubting daughter of Sandler and Leone, and Shelbie Bruce is amazing as the young Mexican girl who quickly adapts to the American way. Her scene translating an argument between Vega and Sandler is an instant classic. Great stuff!
Cloris Leachman has what could have been a throw away role, but Brooks’ poignant writing, and Leachman’s touching performance make it one of the best in the movie. She does a really great job.
Tea Leone does an excellent job, but damn, her character is really annoying. Well written, but really, really annoying. She makes it look simple though…and her performance in the, uh, “love scene” is possibly the weirdest thing I’ve scene in a while.
Now, when Adam Sandler did PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE I graded the movie harshly. It got a lot of attention for taking Sandler out of the wacky comedy and into the refined air of a Paul Thomas Anderson flick. But I thought Sandler was still playing his usual role, just more angrily and with less humor.
(Since then I realized I hated the movie because I associated with his character way too much. It just hit too close to home.)
But here, Adam Sandler is the most “normal” he’s ever been on screen. He’s just a regular guy, and he acts like it. No stupid voices, no funny faces...really, it is a stretch for him…and he does a good job to boot! I mean, his name will never be listed along with your Oliviers (Sir Laurence, to you!) or your Washingtons (Denzel, duh), but he gives a solid performance, and his character too is very well written. Very likable guy. Nice job Adam!
And then there’s Paz Vega, a Spanish actress (hey, I was born in Spain too! No, really.) who is simply luminescent in this movie. Again, her performance and likability is greatly buoyed by Brooks wonderful writing, but still, by the end of this movie I was completely in love with her. I mean, she’s pretty gorgeous anyway, but her character is very sweet and full of quiet dignity and wisdom. Awesome.
Most of her lines are in Spanish, and I heard that the little English she knows so far she learned just for this role. For now I think she’s doing another Spanish language film. Her English may need help, but her acting is still very good, and even with a thick accent, I can see her doing well in other English language productions. I truly hope to see more of her, anywhere!
This movie isn’t for everybody. If you want a HA-HA Adam Sandler movie, stay away. If you want a nice movie that’s OK for most of the family (not too young though), this an excellent choice.