Spanglish

Here’s the story: Flor (Paz Vega) takes her daughter Cristina (Victoria Luna) from Mexico to live in the United States with hopes of having a better existence. When Cristina hits puberty, Flor decide to changes jobs to keep a closer eye on her offspring. She becomes a housekeeper in the upscale Californian home of John and Deborah Clasky (Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni). John is a renowned chef and Deb is a rich and chic housewife. The clash of culture and language (Flor can’t speak English) serves as the origin for significant events in both families’ life. And, of course, there is a dog that serves as an amusing distraction at points.

Aside from “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” having ruled the box office this past weekend, it’s an incredible time for cinema. In the next year alone, we’ll have new films by Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne and David O. Russell. These guys are some of the most fascinating voices in modern American Cinema. As if there was any doubt, you need to add to this incredible group the fantastic James L. Brooks. Very few stories have touched me like this screenplay has.

These characters didn’t seem like exaggeration of regular individuals. John and Deb Clasky and their children are real, Flor and Christina are folks I have met. The authenticity of those peoples is the highlight of the picture. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there is one scene that stands out from the rest of the screenplay, where John is having a discussion about collectible cards with his young son Georgie. They are interrupted by a scream from his daughter Bernice. She has the newspaper in her arm and starts reading a culinary review out loud to the rest of the family. She starts tearing up toward a paragraph, which proclaims that her father to be the best chef in the United States. The emotion written in that scene is so palpable it’s extraordinary.

I haven’t been this excited about a script since “Something’s Gotta Give.” It’s one step better then that film.

Let me take a step back a minute to explain the film’s title: “Spanglish” refers to the film’s narrator, Christina, and her tale of how they moved from Mexico to California. “Spanglish” is basically her story. At one point, she’s even asked by Deborah if she dreams in Spanish or English; before her move to the U.S., it would have been Spanish. Now, she dreams in English. To a minor degree, the title also refers to the language mix used in the Clasky family after Christina becomes her mother’s translator for them. Despite the frequent change in languages, it isn’t doesn’t serve as a distraction to the audience. In my mind, it’s perfect. Very early on in the screenplay there’s a great note by the writer: “All Spanish dialogue will be worked hard to provide something extra for the Spanish-speaking…working in tidbits or extra exposition, jokes etc…” How cool is thatr I almost want to learn Spanish just for that little extra.

There’s one burning question surrounding this project: Will James L. Brooks be able to direct two relative newcomers (Paz Vega and Victoria Luna) to convincing performancesr I hope so. Perhaps he can even it bring to the level of being award-worthy. He has always hired very gifted actors for his films and made them give career-best performances, with the double Oscar acting win of “As Good As It Gets” the pinnacle of this. I expect nothing less from him here as well.

This is going to be Sandler’s hardest acting assignment ever. It’s a brilliant follow-up to an abysmal performance in “50 First Dates.” The distinction between those two roles is like night and day. In “Dates,” he seemed to be playing the usual Sandler character, but “Spanglish” requires a bit more thespian work from Sandler. He can’t sleepwalk his way through this role. Can he pull it offr I have no doubt about this. In my mind, he was remarkable in “Punch-Drunk Love” and this film is the next logical step in his dramatic career.

I know Tea Leoni doesn’t have that many fans. I know a lot of people who simply HATE her. Well good news for everybody, you’ll love to despise her in this film. She’s a real b*tch. Her mother – played by Cloris Leachman – is a good comedic relief to her b*tchy persona. It’s disappointing that Anne Bancroft had to pull out of that role due to her health, as she would have been wonderful here.

Nobody believed Adam Sandler could headline a dramatic film. In a few months, he could very well be nominated for an Academy Award. Who could have imagine thatr This draft of “Spanglish” is dated October 31st, 2003, and written by James L. Brooks. The title listed on this draft is “Crazy White B*tches” and credited to Sheri Glippens, a cover for the real work and screenwriter. The film is scheduled to be released this coming winter.

Rating: A