Dir/scr: James L Brooks.US. 2004. 131mins.
Seven years after hislast movie As Good As It Gets, James L Brooks returns with asophisticated adult comedy which also looks at a bunch of misfits - only thistime they are the members of an ostensibly successful Beverly Hills family.
Their world is thrown intodisarray at the arrival of a beautiful Mexican woman who is hired as their maidwithout speaking a word of English. The conflict and contrast between her andthem is at the film's core. Her values are compared to theirs, her values arechallenged by theirs, her values are almost tainted by their confusion and thecorruption of money.
It's an entertaining film,for sure, and as usual Brooks' dialogue is breathlessly witty and his damagedcharacters touching and real. But Spanglish is fundamentally problematicboth because of its awkwardly structured script and because its subjects havequestionable box office appeal outside the US, maybe even outside southernCalifornia.
By refusing to stick withone perspective - neither the Spanish maid's nor her daughter Christina's northe Clasky family's - the film gets lost in its different issues andviewpoints. The audience starts by relating to the maid Flor (Vega), but Brooksloses track of her. We barely see her life outside the Clasky household, yetthe film begins as her journey and Brooks tells us all about her life beforethe Claskys in the prologue.
Even when we get into thehousehold, we lose Flor as he gets distracted by John and Deborah Clasky(Sandler and Leoni) and their unhappiness. The film returns to Flor at the end,but by then it appears as if she were simply a catalyst to get inside the richfolks' heads.
But if Brooks himself isfascinated by the Claskys, they are a way-too-privileged bunch to earn thesympathy of a wide audience. These guys live in a palatial house in one of therichest enclaves in America, their wealth is obscene compared to the averageJoe and Mrs Joe who are being asked to pay to see the movie in a multiplexsomewhere.
Why Brooks thinks anybodywill care passionately about their struggles for fulfilment is hard to imagine,but he tries to make us care, even though Flor - whom he paints incondescendingly broad brushstrokes - is a genuine heroine.
Sony is doing a valiant jobof selling the film to US audiences but the everyman who could relate to AsGood As It Gets will not be satisfied, and word of mouth will bemixed-to-negative. Domestic grosses of over $75m are unlikely (as opposed tothe $140m-plus of As Good As It Gets) while international audiences willbe unlikely to care about the shrill neuroses of the Beverly Hills rich.
The film is framed as anadmissions letter to Harvard by the 18-year-old Christina who writes that hermother Flor is her heroine. She relays the arrival of Flor in the US and then,when Christina was 12, how Flor gets a job in the Clasky house.
John Clasky is a lovingfather and good husband who has one of the best reputations in the country as achef. His wife Deborah, now a full-time housewife, battles her feelings ofinadequacy while making her own daughter Bernice (Steele) feel inadequate forbeing overweight. They live with Evelyn (Leachman), Deborah's wine-soakedmother.
She immediately takes toFlor and coerces her and Christina (Bruce) to live in with them in their summerrental house in Malibu. There she lavishes attention on Christina much to theembarrassment of John, the horror of Flor and the despair of Bernice. AsDeborah begins an affair with a real-estate agent, John spends more time withFlor, who is learning to speak English. The two develop an attraction to eachother but don't act on it.
Back in Beverly Hills,Deborah does everything in her power to get Christina a place in a BeverlyHills high school, leaving Flor feeling that she is losing her daughter.Tensions grow in the house, and John is increasingly unhappy.
One fateful night, asDeborah breaks down and confesses her affair to John, who flees to hisrestaurant with Flor.
There are many winningmoments in Spanglish, not to mention top-notch production values, lushmusic by Hans Zimmer and some excellent performances from a restrained andappealing Sandler, a believably hysterical Leoni, the beautiful Spanish starVega and an appropriately scene-stealing Leachman.
The film is unlikely to makemuch of an impression in the end-of-year awards stakes unlike previous Brooksfare, although Leoni and Leachman stand the best chance in the actress andsupporting actress categories respectively.
Prod cos: Gracie Films, Columbia Pictures
Worldwide dist: Sony PicturesReleasing
Exec prods: Joan Bradshaw, Christy Haubegger
Prods: James L Brooks, RichardSakai, Julie Ansell
Cine: John Seale
Prod des: Ida Random
Ed: Richard Marks
Mus: Hans Zimmer
Main cast: Adam Sandler, TeaLeoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Shelbie Bruce, Sarah Steele, Thomas HadenChurch