Spanglish (2005) *** 1/2
Directed and written by James L. Brooks. A Columbia release. Producers: Mr. Brooks, Richard Sakai, Julie Ansell. Executive producers: Joan Bradshaw, Christy Haubegger. Photography, John Seale. Editing, Richard Marks. Production design, Ida Random. Music, Hans Zimmer. Cast: Adam Sandler (John Clasky), Paz Vega (Flor), Tea Leoni (Deborah Clasky), Cloris Leachman (Evelyn), Shelbie Bruce (Cristina), Sarah Steele (Bernice Clasky), Ian Hyland (Georgie Clasky), et al. 131 minutes. PG-13.
To refresh your memory. Writer-director James L. Brooks -born 1940 in New Jersey --has a large, impressive set of credits in many capacities, among which: producer, writer, director, combinations of the above, creator (for TV), and more. Samples: As Good as It Gets, Jerry Maguire, Big, Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment, I'll Do Anything, Taxi (TV), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (TV) and much else.
"Spanglish" is a joy. To simplify its complications, it deals primarily with a pretty Spanish actress, Paz Vega. Ms Vega (born 1976 in Seville) starting in 1996 has been in a dozen of Spanish movies and in some TV series. I, like everyone else in the U.S.A. have never seen any of those films. But her recruitment by Hollywood cannot be far behind,
Male viewers in Hollywood who are attracted by her, take notice that she was married in 2002. (Hold It. Knowing the marital or other musical chairs of the movie business, I retract my warning.) In "Spanglish" (the best title of the year, by far) Paz Vega, simply named Flor (it is a common name, means "flower" in Spanish) is an immigrant from Mexico who, dumped by her husband, goes to Los Angeles with her daughter Cristina. Seeking a better life, she becomes a housekeeper at the nice home of chef (and restaurant owner) Adam Sandler, his wife Tea Leoni, their two kids Bernice and Georgie, grandma Cloris Leachman, and their dog.
The propellant here is quadripartite. 1) Language. Flor knows no word of English. Her daughter Cristina is superbly bilingual, speaks American with such "native" quality that she belongs to the United Nations translator pool. 2) Business. Sandler (as John) gets top rating from restaurant pundits - and that complicates things. 3) Madness. Tea (NOT pronounced like the infusion) is a nut. 4) The couple's daughter Bernice is a sweetheart, and overweight.
What happens and how several threads develop is quite delicious. No, don't ask, just watch the movie. I can reveal that the acting by all (and I mean ALL) is tops. That the histrionics are of high quality. That relationships are of major interest. That Flor, at some point, teaches herself English (via a pricey audio-visual program) and goes (most improbably) from a micro-vocabulary ("yes" or "no", not even as rich as "Me Tarzan you Jane") to near-fluency after a few -but more than Five -Easy Lessons.
Of notable, historical (film) value is a hilarious love-making situation between Tea and Adam, in which she has a high-decibel, mad orgasm that threatens to dethrone the famous shouts, in a restaurant, of Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally."
As for most movies, including very good ones, improbabilities are inevitable. Cristina's blitz-fast simultaneous translation PLUS the perfect, physical copy of her mother's gestures belong to the realm of fantasy-- yet it's all quite entertaining. There are more examples of movieistic exaggerations, but nothing that a good dose of suspension of disbelief would not correct.
One, big (very big) reason for this is that the acting -pardon the repetition -- is excellent, and this concerns practically all the scenes. That goes for the dog, too.
Having no printed information about the film, I had to do some digging. It revealed that Shelbie Bruce (as Cristina), the excellent Sarah Steele (Bernice), and Ian Hyland (Georgie) were performing for the first time.