Spanglish US Theatrical Release: December 17, 2004 (Columbia Pictures) US DVD Release: April 5, 2005 Running Time: 2:10:58 (28 chapter stops) Rating: PG-13 (Some Sexual Content And Brief Language) Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic (Extra Features: 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) Audio: English DD5.1, French DD5.1 (Extra Features: DD2.0) Subtitles: English, French (Extra Features: none) TV-Generated Closed Captions: English Menus: Lightly animated and skippable. Packaging: Standard keepcase; single-sheet insert has cover images for other titles. MSRP: $28.95 THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3.5/5 Director James L. Brooks is a master at finding comedy in the human condition. From his work on TV shows like The Simpsons to films like As Good As It Gets, he digs under the skin for laughs as well as anybody. Spanglish, his latest film, leans to the dramatic side in its observation of two very different families who spend a summer together. While it definitely has its moments, it’s held back from greatness by one near-fatal flaw. Flor (Paz Vega) is a Mexican immigrant in Los Angeles who lives in the barrio with her 11-year-old daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce). A stereotypically strong-willed and passionate Latina who still speaks no English after five years in the US, Flor is entirely focused on caring for her child. Working two jobs to support her is an easy sacrifice. However, once the boys in the neighborhood take notice of the blossoming young girl, Flor decides that she needs more time to keep an eye on her. It’s time to venture outside the barrio to find a single job that will pay enough. Enter the Clasky family, who are looking for a housekeeper. John (Adam Sandler) is a rising star chef and the quintessential sensitive-but-not-wussy guy. His wife Deborah (Téa Leoni) is a high-strung type-A personality who is trying to adjust to the home life following the closing of her employer’s business. Their children are 13-year-old Bernice (Sarah Steele, who gained weight for the role, Bridget Jones-style, under the supervision of her nutritionist father) and Georgie (Ian Hyland), who is at best tangential to the story. The clan is rounded out by Deb’s mother Evelyn Norwich (Cloris Leachman), a former jazz singer who drinks a lot and delivers the film’s wittiest lines (“Lately, your low self-esteem is just good common sense”). Of course, Flor, without speaking a word of English, lands the job, and soon her good nature wins the hearts of the Claskys. But all is not swell in the Clasky home. Deb, though she usually tries to do the right thing, is not the greatest when it comes to interacting with others. When Flor’s cousin is hurt at the house, Deb’s first instinct is to literally throw money at her. In an attempt to encourage Bernice to lose some weight, she brings home a snazzy collection of new clothes – clothes that are a half-size too small. Needless to say, her actions do not always lead to the expected reactions. Things start to boil over when Deborah assumes that Flor will stay with the family for three months at their summer rental in Malibu (shot at a house that once belonged to singer Al Joson). In her defense, Flor has not yet mentioned her daughter to anyone (understandable, perhaps, since she can’t really mention anything in English). In the first of many awkward moments between Flor and her employers, she relents and agrees (with the help of a bilingual neighbor) to bring Cristina to Malibu for the summer. What follows is a series of episodes involving adults trying to do right by other people’s children but often crossing the line into inappropriate interference. Both hilarity and poignancy ensue. Some of the humor, especially when it involves Evelyn, is right on target, while other gags, like Deb's orgasm scene (which will remind everyone of the deli scene in When Harry Met Sally), are more cute than laugh-out-loud funny. As Flor learns to speak English, she also develops a close relationship with John – two good-hearted people who put their kids first, there is definite chemistry between them. Which leads us to the aforementioned flaw in the film. Writer/ director Brooks states explicitly in the extra features that Deborah is intended to be a misguided yet lovable character. However, as written, she is not in any way sympathetic. Her actions throughout the film are at best ignorant and at worst monstrous. Leoni does her best with the material, but her character antagonizes her family (and the audience) over and over and over again. Only towards the very end of the film does she show any signs of reforming her behavior, and even then she appears to revert right back to her thoughtless ways. Combine this with the relationship between Flor and John, two extraordinarily likeable people struggling against a natural attraction, and many viewers will feel extremely uncomfortable, almost rooting for the breakup of the Clasky family. Does Spanglish overcome this flaw? To an extent. The cast really elevates the material, especially young Sarah Steele and Shelbie Bruce. Cloris Leachman steals nearly every scene she’s in, although her appearances are too few and far between. Adam Sandler performs well in what may be his first non-wacko performance as a (relatively) normal person. It certainly looks like the lovely Paz Vega, already popular in her native Spain, is going to charm her way into the hearts of American audiences. And Téa Leoni really tries her darndest to humanize a character that only a fluke test audience (or one culled from southern California’s shallowest residents) could love. There is a truth to these portrayals with which audiences will be able to identify. Brooks mentions in the commentary track that the film was shown to thirteen different test audiences during editing. Perhaps they led Deborah Clasky astray from an earlier version who evoked more sympathy. Even just a scene or two that softened her image would have vastly improved the film, since it does have some thoughtful things to say about families and about cross-cultural relationships, and her relentlessly antisocial behavior tends to distract from that. All things considered, though, Spanglish develops a nice mix of comedy and drama – it’s a shame that one glaring misstep keeps it from the heights it could have attained. THE WAY I SEE IT: 3/5 The picture is mostly decent, but has its hiccups. Colors are mostly rich and blacks are thick and satisfying. However, the colors do get a bit washed out in some exterior scenes. Also, the bitrate tends to be rather low, and it shows. The image is often a little bit soft, and patterns occasionally shimmer. Edge enhancement has been applied somewhat liberally as well. THE WAY I HEAR IT: 3.5/5 The audio is clear and realistic, but lives almost entirely in the front soundstage. The surrounds only occasionally make an appearance with ambient effects or just the slightest touch of music. The balance of dialogue, effects and music works nicely, although the music tends to be pretty low in the mix. THE SWAG: 3.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity) Commentary Track with Director James L. Brooks and editors Richard Marks and Tia Nolan Brooks and his editors chat their way through a track that is only OK. They have an irritating habit of sometimes beginning a thought and then not following up, leaving the listener dangling. There’s also a fair amount of dead space and too much amazin’ (as in “isn’t she amazing here?”). They talk a bit about the casting, and discuss the editing of a few scenes. They also mention the thirteen test audiences who screened the film, which may help explain why things don’t always come across exactly the way Brooks seems to feel they should. Additional Scenes (30:44) (1.85:1 non-anamorphic) Twelve deleted scenes are included. They may be played individually with their original audio or via a Play All button, in which case the audio consists of commentary by the director and editors. Since the Play All feature is recorded as a separate file, the audio can’t be switched on the fly. The scenes range from different cuts of existing scenes to entire sequences that were removed. They’re worth checking out for a different perspective on things. HBO First Look: The Making Of Spanglish (13:01) (1.33:1 non-anamorphic) What an AMAZING script! What a FANTASTIC cast! What a MAGICAL film! This feature mainly serves as proof that James L. Brooks is not actually Leonard Maltin, although they do look a bit alike. Their voices are nearly indistinguishable. Casting Sessions (4:24) (1.33:1 non-anamorphic) Clips from the casting sessions for Victoria Luna (Cristina at age 6), Shelbie Bruce, Sarah Steele, and Paz Vega, playable with or without commentary from James L. Brooks and his editors. They’re cute to see, and the commentary is interesting. How To Make The Word’s Greatest Sandwich Featuring Thomas Keller (4:11) (1.33:1 non-anamorphic) Culinary consultant (and world-class chef) Thomas Keller teaches Adam Sandler to make the tasty treat of the title for a midnight snack scene in the film. One of the most appetizing extra features of all time! The details of the recipe appear at the end of the clip, and boy, does it look scrumptious. DVD-ROM Content In a welcome change of pace for Sony, the shooting script is included on the disc as a DVD-ROM feature. It contains some interesting material that didn’t make the final film or the deleted scenes. Here’s hoping that Sony continues to include DVD-ROM content like this on future titles. Previews: Six trailers are included. Bewitched (0:47) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 anamorphic) Guess Who (2:15) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic) House Of Flying Daggers (1:57) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 anamorphic) Something’s Gotta Give (2:48) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 anamorphic) As Good As It Gets (2:31) (DD2.0; 1.66:1 non-anamorphic) Silverado: Deluxe Superbit Edition DVD (1:22) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) SUMMING IT ALL UP The Way I Feel About It: 3.5/5 The Way I See It: 3/5 The Way I Hear It: 3.5/5 The Swag: 3.5/5 Spanglish is a good film that disappoints because it so easily could have been much better had the Deborah character been more likeable. (It’s been rumored that John and Deb Clasky are based on writer/ director Brooks and his ex-wife, and that would certainly explain the saintly John and overly abrasive Deb.) It otherwise succeeds with humor and pathos communicated through very strong performances. It’s always a treat to discover new child actors who show some skills, and the American debut of the adorable and talented Paz Vega is most welcome. The decent presentation and good collection of extra features also help to make this disc worth checking out, although it doesn’t quite manage to earn the RECOMMENDED label.