Spanglish James L. Brooks

James L. Brooks is the master at finding both the heart-warming and the heartbreaking in interpersonal relationships. He brought us Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good As It Gets, each of which exemplified the exaggerated truth behind human emotion. In Spanglish, his fifth film as director, Brooks continues the trend, but unfortunately shows us he might be running out of steam. Spanglish tells the story of Flor (Paz Vega), a Mexican woman who is forced to flee to America with her daughter Christina (Shelbie Bruce) after her husband leaves her. After years spent in the Hispanic communities of Los Angeles, Flor decides to pursue a job as a housekeeper for the Clasky family. Little does Flor realise that the Clasky family is in need of more than just a housekeeper. Wife Deborah (an over-the-top Tea Leoni) is manic and hysterical, husband John (Adam Sandler) is underappreciated, daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele) has low self-esteem, and grandmother Evelyn (Cloris Leachman, at her best) is a drunk. Once all these finely categorised characters are introduced, the film loses its direction and becomes a mash of various problems between and within the characters. Is Spanglish a portrait of upper middleclass America or of the journey of immigration? What exactly is Brooks trying to say? There is so much going on that it is hard to tell. However, Brooks does know how to write and there are some absolutely touching scenes in Spanglish, particularly between John and Flor. Sandler seems at home under Brooks's direction, toning down his performance and nailing the subtlety of his character. And the stunning Paz Vega steals most of the movie, managing to make her many non-subtitled Spanish scenes interesting to watch even if one doesn't know what is being said. One notices that there is a really great movie somewhere inside Spanglish, and when it shows itself, the film is a delight. But when it gets lost in its overdramatic tendencies, Spanglish feels too long and is too much. The DVD is pretty basic. It contains a standard director commentary, some additional scenes (including a showdown between Flor and Deborah that should have been kept in the movie, while about two dozen scenes should have been taken out), and some mediocre featurettes. (Columbia/Sony)