SPANGLISH (James L. Brooks, 2004)
SPANGLISH features Paz Vega as Flor Moreno, a Mexican immigrant who comes to Los Angeles hoping for a better life for her daughter. For her first several years in the United States Flor rarely ventures outside the comfort of the Spanish-speaking community where she lives. When she accepts a housekeeping job for the Clasky family, Flor gets a crash course in the dysfunctional lives of the upper class. Teá Leoni and Adam Sandler star as high-strung Deborah Clasky and mild-mannered star chef John Clasky.
James L. Brooks’ forte as a writer-director is locating the comedy and humanity in his characters’ foibles. With SPANGLISH he misplaces that sensibility. Deborah is a self-absorbed, emasculating harpy who, on her best day, might charitably be described as thoroughly unpleasant. Blame Brooks and Leoni for this movie-wrecking character. Brooks wrote her as all hard edges. Whether Deborah is chiding Flor not to play fetch with the dog or bemoaning the state of her marriage, Leoni’s shrill performance is wince inducing. Brooks struggles to define SPANGLISH, garbling the storylines in an unfocused film that only skims the surface in its two hours plus running time. SPANGLISH plays like a rough cut in which the Clasky marriage and Flor’s relationship with her daughter fight for primacy. Neither storyline nor characters get developed satisfactorily, so the threads are stitched together like a poorly sewn quilt. As Deborah’s alcoholic jazz singer mother, Cloris Leachman gives the film much-needed comic relief, but in keeping with this ramshackle production, she appears and disappears without explanation.
(Review first aired on the December 21, 2004 NOW PLAYING)