Paloma de Papel (Paper Dove)

Part travelogue, part political statement, part coming-of-age drama —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Spanglish is a very James Brooksian movie. You’re not sure what that means? Consider his resume. Brooks may be best known as a successful producer of sitcoms such as The Simpsons, Cheers, and Taxi. He also directs a feature film every half-decade or so. You’ve probably seen his well-produced crowd pleasers like Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good as It Gets.

Like Brooks’ other films, Spanglish is a well-produced feel-good comedy with a solid cast. It doesn’t stand up to strong skepticism, but if you let yourself get sucked in, it’s an enjoyable day at the movies.

Under One Roof

Trickle-down economy: the troubles of the haves spill on to the have-nots
Trickle-down economy: the troubles of the haves spill on to the have-nots

Flor (Paz Vega, Sex and Lucia) is a single mother. She came to L.A. from Mexico to find a better life. Without knowing any English, she takes a job as the live-in maid for the Clasky family, whose money comes from the renown of John Clasky (Adam Sandler), a chef.

Deborah Clasky (Tea Leoni) provides most of the conflict for the movie. She’s a bundle of Brooksian neuroses. She jogs aggressively. She nags her daughter about watching her weight, to the point of well-intentioned cruelty. Her sex life with her husband is comically selfish. She seems unaware and ungrateful of her own good fortune to be one of L.A.’s “haves,” as though she were entitled. In fact, Brooks hints that she probably grew up spoiled rich — her mother Evelyn (Cloris Leachman) was once a famous and successful jazz singer.

Flor and her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) agree to move to Malibu for the summer, with Flor continuing as the live-in maid at their beachfront house. John and Deborah continue to disagree on fundamental issues like how to raise their children. With everyone living under one roof, the Claskys’ arguments spill over into Flor’s life and affect her own efforts to raise Cristina well.

While this may sound like serious stuff, Brooks keeps the tone light and funny. The Claskys’ “sex” scene is hilariously weird. Grandma, who developed a white wine habit from all the nightclubs she sang at, teaches young Georgie the sultry lyrics to “Lush Life.” Brooks shows us a closeup of the greasy sandwich the gourmet chef makes for himself for a midnight snack. These continuous little one-liners keep a smile on your face and keep the movie traipsing along.

Feel-Good Entertainment

There are several notable flaws in Spanglish. Adam Sandler is good at playing Adam Sandler, but he doesn’t sell every scene. It’s easy to get annoyed by Leoni’s character, with her high-pitched, piercing voice. Brooks also tries to put too much emotional weight on his tidy ending. And the bookending story and narration (from Cristina’s point of view, in the form of a college essay) seem to distract from the central story.

These are balanced by Brooks’ solid comedic writing, his vivid characters, his good sense of pacing, and good performances from Vega, Leachman, Leoni, and 12-year-old Bruce.

And while I wouldn’t recommend Spanglish for my hard-core film snob friends, I would recommend it for friends and family looking for a bit of feel-good entertainment over the holidays.