Adam Sandler has tried to advance his career from lowbrow comedian ("Billy Madison" has an idiotic brilliance, as do parts of "Happy Gilmore") to serious actor over the years (well, maybe not "serious" actor...let's just say, "actor."), with only a limited amount of success (critics loved "Punch-Drunk Love", but audiences were not exactly feeling the same way.) "Spanglish" is another attempt by Sandler to work his way into a more dramatic role, although one that's closer to the mainstream.
The picture, the latest from director James L. Brooks ("As Good As It Gets"), is an enjoyable, if rather flawed effort that stars Sandler as John, a husband, father and professional chef. Paz Vega ("Sex and Lucia") stars as Flor, a single Mexican mother who does not speak English and cares for her young daughter. She works a couple of jobs until her daughter gets older, and at that point, they move into the house of John and his wife, Deborah (Tea Leoni, severely irritating for the first time I can remember), in order to become the nanny/housekeeper.
Deborah has been laid-off, and John continues to worry about the status of his restaurant. The two of them have a daughter that John cares for and that Deborah has gone after to the point where the daughter (Sarah Steele) has a poor self-image. Meanwhile, Deborah also has her mother (Cloris Leachman, funny) around, despite the fact that Deborah resents her.
There's not much in the way of plot to go around for the film's 132-minute running time, as the picture is more of a character study. While some of the characters don't work - Leoni's Deborah is shrill and a character in need of either help or for the comet from Leoni's "Deep Impact" make a return in this film - there are definitely some better elements. Steele's performance as the self-concious daughter is wonderful; there's a really touching scene with her and Vega after the maid takes her new clothes and alters them for her. She has some great moments with Sandler, as well. She's the real highlight of this movie. I liked Sandler, as well - he manages to offer a very engaging, charming performance, while also adding in little bits of his usual Sandler persona. Paz Vega is also first-rate as the maid who doesn't want her daugher to lose her cultural identity.
The film's main flaw is that it seems a bit loose and unfocused. Cutting out about 20 minutes worth of footage would have made for a tighter, better-paced feature. There's also the question of why John and Deborah are even together, as the mild-mannered John seems overwhelmed by the high-maintenance Deborah. Leoni's role is the one role that's poorly written in the picture - while it's understandable that the character would be going through emotional issues after being laid-off, the role is taken way too far and becomes very shrill at times. As a result of all this, the issues between the Leoni and Sandler characters are pretty uninteresting; the movie is more successful when it's bringing all the characters into the picture. The dialogue is generally intelligent, save for a few odd lines, such as when the daughter of the Vega character says to Leoni, "You're the most amazing white woman I've ever met!" Uh, ok.
Faults aside, I still found the movie mostly likable. Most of the performances are very good, and although some of the dialogue is off, most of it is enjoyable and well-written. It's also an attractive movie, thanks to, among other things, fine cinematography from John Seale. "Spanglish" isn't going to stick with me, but I found it pretty engaging while it was running.
VIDEO: "Spanglish" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality remains quite good, as this is one of the better transfers from the studio lately. Sharpness and detail remained good, as the picture remained consistently crisp and well-defined. Small object details were visible throughout.
The picture only showed a few minor faults: a tiny bit of edge enhancement was spotted in a few scenes, and I also noticed a trace or two of pixelation. Aside from that, the picture remained crisp and clean, with no specks, marks or other faults. Colors looked bright and natural, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: "Spanglish" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is pretty restrained, which is to be expected, given that this is a dialogue-driven feature. Surrounds aren't called in to work much, only offering some slight ambience and score on a couple of occasions. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: There is a commentary from director James L. Brooks and editors Richard Marks and Tia Nolan. The commentary was taped about a month after the film was released into theaters. The track is informative and fun, as we learn a great deal about changes to the story and the final film, as well as some technical details about the production and trying to edit the feature.
An HBO "First Look" doc is a bit better than these pieces usually are. The first half is promotional and the doc does gush about how wonderful a director Brooks is, but it does offer some nice production stories and behind-the-scenes clips. Next are casting sessions for the young actors (with optional commentary). "How to Make the World's Greatest Sandwich" is a featurette focusing on chef Thomas Keller, who talks about how to make the snack Sandler's character makes in the movie. There's also previews for other Columbia/Tristar titles ("Guess Who", "As Good As It Gets" and others), 12 deleted scenes (with optional commentary) and, for DVD-ROM users, the shooting script for the movie.
Final Thoughts: I liked "Spanglish", for the most part, but it's too long and begins to wear out its welcome. The performances are good, and the dialogue is fairly well-written, but some editing could have really helped matters. The DVD offers very good image quality, fine sound and a few good supplements. Rent it.