Since 1997's "As Good as It Gets" writer/director James L. Brooks has been out of the directing game, so it's kind of hard to believe that "Spanglish" was the inspiration that brought him back. Did he suddenly become friends with his Mexican housekeeper and decide that he owed it to her to show everyone that illegal immigrants have feelings just like the rest of us?
One of the many annoying things about this film is that Brooks insists on avoiding subtitles when his main character, the beautiful Flor (Paz Vega), is speaking Spanish (Flor is stunningly beautiful because if she were fat and ugly, nobody would care about her feelings). So most of the audience is left in the dark just like John (Adam Sandler) and Deb Clasky (Téa Leoni), who hire her to be their housekeeper, then learn Flor has a daughter, Christina (Shelbie Bruce), only after they bully her into moving in with them. Eventually, however, Flor concludes that she must learn English -- a moment that's followed by a huge, collective sigh of relief from those in the audience who haven't already tried to drive their Coke straws straight into their brains.
While the film centers on Flor, it's largely about dysfunctional relationships, a concept that actress Téa Leoni apparently takes to mean that she has carte blanche to run around the film like a drunken Woody Allen. Deb's neuroses pour out of her like water out of a fire hose. She has low self-esteem. She barely acknowledges her daughter Bernice's (Sarah Steele) existence. She talks over everyone. It's a horribly acted and directed performance, devoid of nuance, that drags the movie right into the toilet. Brooks seems to realize this, so he casts Cloris Leachman as Deb's drunken mother to balance things and create humor when neurosis slides toward psychosis.
John Clasky is an award-winning chef who always seems to be weathering a storm. Unfortunately, Sandler plays him like a man whose testicles have receded into his body for protection. Mostly, Sandler just reverts to that dumb Adam Sandler look whenever anything is happening and the audience is supposed to accept it as complexity. Whatever depth of character Brooks is trying to achieve here is entirely undermined by Leoni's overacting, Sandler's underacting, and the touching-yet-revolting desire to make Flor the object of all that is good in the universe.
The film is told in flashback, through an admission essay the grown-up Christina submits to Princeton. This framing device is about as useless and annoying as Nicole Richie on "Jeopardy." I have a feeling this film is going to give me flashbacks for quite some time.
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