Monday, January 10, 2005

Spanglish - Thumb's up for Adam Sandler's ensemble piece

Spanglish is the kind of film that disappears quickly on the movie scene. I never heard any word-of-mouth about this film; yet, if I hadn’t caught it, I would have been missing a wonderful, emotional movie full of brilliant performances.

A young Mexican woman and her daughter emigrate to the U.S. to start a better life. Flor starts working for a family where he (Adam Sandler) is a chef at a four-star restaurant, and she (Tea Leoni) describes herself in an early scene as a “full-time mother.”

She is neither full-time nor a mother, and her family vibrates in a dysfunctional manner around her. Her way of advocating to her daughter to lose weight is to buy her brand new clothes for school in one size too small. Her daughter, however, is inarticulate in her pain, and like her father, hides her anger and her shame.

In an older movie of like plot, the maid would rescue the family. But not here. While Flor acts as a catalyst for some events, she isn’t ignored, treated as a second-class citizen in either the story or their family. In the capable hands of actress Paz Vega, this woman captures the dignity of a young mother watching her daughter escape into a culture neither one can control or predict. Or afford. It’s a very real story, and handled very well.

It might be easy to say that Cloris Leachman has the role of a lifetime, although Cloris has always done the most with each role she’s ever played. However, she’s simply wonderful and drop-dead funny in the role as Tea Leoni’s mother, the grandmother often forgotten but who makes a positive impact on the kids’ lives. Tea Leoni gives her best performance yet as the surburban mother who does her best to pre-empt Flor’s right to make decisions for her daughter. And while I was never a fan of Adam Sandler movies, he found one I could watch and enjoy. His subtle agony is a joy to watch as a man who can’t say no to his wife and her destructive tendencies around their two children.

James Brooks is never a director to ignore. You should not ignore this latest of his gems.


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