R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr James L Brooks
with Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Victoria Luna, Sarah Steele, Ian Hyland, Gustavo Vargas, Sean Smith, Matt Battaglia, Allen Covert, Thomas Haden Church
release US 17.Dec.04, UK 25.Feb.05

Meet the parents: Vega,Leoni and Sandler

sandler leoni leachman
Spanglish Support Shadows: Buy a Poster
From The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Terms of Endearment to Broadcast News and As Good as it Gets, writer-director Brooks makes his living with astute and hilariously entertaining examinations of skilled-yet-insecure women. This time he has five of them at different phases of their lives.

Flor (Vega) is a single mother in Mexico who travels to Los Angeles with 12-year-old daughter Cristina (Luna) and gets a job with the wealthy Clasky family--neurotic housewife Deborah (Leoni), celebrated chef John (Sandler), sparky kids (Steele and Hyland) and drunken mother (Leachman). Flor doesn't speak a word of English, and they know no Spanish, but it's the communication between family members that's the real problem.

While the set-up isn't terribly exciting, and the film constantly threatens to turn into a mother-daughter weep-fest, Brooks is confident enough to keep our focus on characters and relationships. After the awkward opening, the film blossoms, drawing us in with revelatory dialog, offbeat situations and characters who sputter and struggle before finally saying what they really feel (perhaps a bit too eloquently--if only we could really come up with lines like this at such crucial moments!).

This is Sandler's best-ever performance--the least self-conscious thing he's done. He nails John's sensitive-guy persona, an ability to empathise and a desire to live without conflict that's simply going to be impossible with a wife as tightly wound as Deborah is. Leoni is a slightly too-manic bundle of chaos--hilarious, infuriating, kinetic and rather scary most of the time. Vega holds the film's centre perfectly as the almost too-perfect Flor. The children deliver unusually intelligent, complex turns. And Leachman effortlessly steals the whole thing.

Brooks' is of course paralleling the cultural/linguistic divide with the gaps that exist in mother-daughter and husband-wife relationships. There's nothing simplistic in the way these people relate to each other--strained patience, unrealistic hopes, tough love, pointless competition and years of baggage. And when a big ending looms, Brooks steps back and thoughtfully reminds us that this is actually a film about the meeting of hearts and souls where language fails us.

cert 12 themes, some language, brief sexuality 8.Dec.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... spanglish Donna Carter, Wisconsin: "It was a mixed bag. I felt as though one character (Téa Leoni) was beyond 'a bit over-the-top' and I don't think that hysteria was actually necessary to her character. Had she been a bit less hyper of a personality, I don't think anything would have been lost, and I believe the whole story would have flowed better. That, and the fact that and they throw in the obligatory (and completely unnecessary) sex scene to garner the PG-13 rating, gave it a down side, but I loved the way they captured the cultural differences. I loved knowing the Spanish even though it was being interpreted. Paz Vega (who reminds me of Salma Hayek) was great, Cloris Leachman was perfect. Adam Sandler actually finally succeeded in not annoying me. Victoria Luna (Flor's daughter) was awesome, and frankly, I think she stole the show. In general, I enjoyed the movie." (12.Dec.04)
© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall