Spanglish

You're in for a treat with this sweetheart of a romantic comedy. Director James L. Brooks (As Good as It Gets,Terms of Endearment) doesn't just write comedy, he crafts it. With his unerring eye for characters, even their hidden dark corners, Brooks makes Spanglish a rich blend of humor and heartbreak.

As John Clasky, a celebrated Los Angeles chef, Adam Sandler has a tough role to play: a decent man. His wife, Deborah (Tea Leoni), is hell on high heels, a crazed careerist fresh out of a job and ready to focus her neurotic energy on her family. John loves her and tries to cope when she makes their daughter (Sarah Steele) feel fat, ignores their son (Ian Hyland) and jumps John's bones until — nice touch — she has an orgasm without waiting for his.

Into the monolingual Clasky house, which includes Deborah's jazz-singing lush of a mother (Cloris Leachman is tangy comic perfection), comes Flor (Paz Vega), a Mexican housekeeper with a preteen daughter, Cristina (the excellent Shelbie Bruce), to translate for her. Spanish Vega (Talk to Her) has a tough role to play: a decent woman with a spine of steel when it comes to family, morals and personal privacy.

It's a setup for a culture clash that escalates when Deborah co-opts Cristina, from clothes to education. Deborah is a bundle of conflicting impulses that even Leoni's fiery, feeling performance can't take the edge off. No wonder John and Flor form a bond. Vega totally wins you over with a beauty and eloquence that crash past language barriers. Sandler is wonderfully appealing as this not so big daddy. He has a harder time playing sexual longing. No matter. In the film's most touching scene, John brings Flor to his empty restaurant and cooks for her with the ardor of a skilled lover.

Here are two people from two different worlds who could never put desire before family. How cheeringly out of step and how typical of the film's becoming modesty. John hates it when his restaurant gets a 4 review ("You become an asshole"). He prefers 3 1/4 ("That's good, not crazy, and you get respect"). The irresistible Spanglish earns respect for Brooks and something even more special: our affection.

From The Archives Issue 431: September 27, 1984