Archive for the ‘WRITTEN BY: James L. Brooks’ Category


13 Dec

Spanglish — Directed and written by James L. Brooks. Family Comedy/Drama. The chaos of an L.A. well-to-do family realigns itself into a brand new chaos. 131 minutes Color 2004.

* * * * *

Téa Leoni! I had never seen her before, but what an actress! (She reminds me of that daring beauty Jill Clayburgh.) Willing to go to any lengths to reveal the truth of the character, she inspires my deep bow of appreciation. She plays a woman so self-indulgent and voluble you could smack her, were she not at the same time, for very innocence and complete ignorance of herself, completely lovable. Spouting a torrent of California human-potential flapdoodle, she is up against a husband who understands her perfectly and who also understand himself and who also understands everyone else, including the new maid, a young mother who speaks no English whatsoever, for she has been barriod since she fled across the Mexican border with her young daughter now thirteen. Adam Sandler plays the hubby and, while his playing often resorts to the strategy of looking away, around, and back at those who confront him, he is a model of kindly and good humored equanimity in the turmoil of the house, or houses, since they move to Malibu for the summer, with the maid, the maid’s daughter, their two children, and his wife’s drunk mother, played by the incomparable Cloris Leachman. Everyone in this film has a big heart. And that’s the ground of its success as a story. On that necessary foundation is laid a marvelous piece of dialogue-writing, and you can just see every actor rejoice to be able to finally say decent, nay, wonderful lines. Motion pictures are about the actions speech leads to. So one leans forward with delight as these relationships unfold in what is said, in repartee – particularly since the maid, played by Paz Vega, speaks no English at all. Leoni speaks too much English; Vega none. The story probably started out as an examination of the Leoni/Sandler marriage, judging by the deleted scenes, but it also started out as an exposition of the conflict between love for one’s mate and love for one’s children. And this last is the direction the story ends up going, the marriage, quite rightly, left hanging at the curtain. This bifurcation of intention throws a veil over the piece, so you don’t really know where it is going, which is to the good. And it provides a ground for surprise as well. Every actor is excellent. The film has a big glow of real warmth, a glow which is never stoked by sentimentality. I would not suppose I could identify with people in this particular Southern California world, but I do, and I recommend that you do too. A warning, though: Skip the Director’s Commentary. He cheapens the film by being unprepared, facetious, and offering crude praise. Commentators: never wing it! Otherwise, don’t miss it.



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