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The word Spanglish is a culturally based word which refers to the integration of Spanish and English into one cohesive language. It’s a version of slang which people fluent in either language use to break the communication barrier between the two. James L. Brooks film titled by the same name uses the language barrier as the foundation for his story.

Spanglish is told through the perspective of Cristina Moreno (newcomer Shelbie Bruce) who along with her mother Flor (Paz Vega in her first American film) immigrate from Mexico. Over the years Flor works several jobs in the Spanish community in California to make ends meet. Eventually she is hired to be a full time house keeper for the well-off Clasky family, allowing her to quit her other jobs.  The eccentric Deborah Clasky (Tea Leoni) hired Flor, despite recently becoming a stay at home mother for her family. This will be the first of decisions surrounding Deborah that make zero sense in the film. Deborah is overly enthusiastic about everything from her marriage to her family to her workout routine.

Frustration is a repeated theme in Spanglish, and it is enunciated no better than John Clasky, played by the incomparable Adam Sandler. A nationally famous chef and admirable father, John is overwhelmed by the success of his career, as he seemingly only seeks the quiet life. He also is frustrated in his marriage with his wife, who seems to have no emotion for her family. When family issues begin to boil over, the Clasky’s decide to live in Malibu for the summer at a rented house. Because the commute would be too far for Flor to make daily, they invite her and her daughter to live with them, their two kids, and Deborah’s mother for the summer. Flor slowly begins to pick up English, but mostly communicates through her daughter in translation. Some of the more comical scenes occur in arguments when Flor must yell at the Clasky’s through Christina.

John and Flor seem to have a connection with each other, both with great work ethics and both with great love for their children. They seek only to be appropriate role models for their respective families. As Deborah neglects John more and more, John is pushed closer romantically towards Flor, having to desperately fight off his urges. If the story had focused on one element of the plot and cut about twenty minutes out of the over two hour running time, the film would have flowed much nicer. Instead, you find yourself wanting a scene to end just to get it over with, not because you want to see what happens next. Unexpectedly the language barrier does not play a crucial role to the story, just a sometimes cute sub-plot. Perhaps if this was integrated into the plot more, the movie would have been interesting instead of bland. Overall the film is disappointing, and never seems to hit the notes we want it to. Leaving an audience unfulfilled is never a good technique and Spanglish is guilty of just that.

That said, there were many great acting performances in Spanglish, starting with the film’s star Adam Sandler. While he most widely known for his roles in Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, Sandler strikes a chord here as a likeable character who has achieved enormous success, but feels as though he has no control on the things that matter most to him. I would love to see Adam take more drama oriented roles, as he proves here he can hold his own very well. Sarah Steele is the other actress worth mentioning, as I feel her future has the skies limits. The young actress plays Bernice, John and Deborah’s daughter. Her intonation is fantastic in addition to her strikingly powerful screen presence. For her first movie role here, she had to put on fifteen pounds to play the part of the overweight daughter. She evokes emotions from the audience as well as any player in the film, and she is to be commended for it.  

If a performance by one actor could ever bring down the quality of an entire film, it’s Tea Leoni’s in Spanglish. She constantly chews up the scenery, and just about every piece of line delivery is a combination over the top and over acting. Her poor performance distracts the audience from the other fine performances on screen and also takes away from the building drama of the plot. Because Leoni’s acting is so poor, we can’t relate to her character and therefore cannot sympathize with her in her time of crisis. This dramatically affects the finale of the film, as it revolves around the poor choices her character made.

Presented in an anamorphic 1:85:1 aspect ratio, the video quality of Spanglish leaves much to be desired. Edge enhancement is a common technique used in this transfer, with instances of haloing as a result. I would say that for about half the duration of the film, the colours look washed and faded. This makes skin tones appear very pasty and subsequently look unnatural. The image therefore does not give much depth making many scenes look flat and soft. When the transfer is suffering from the aforementioned problems, it is usually in scenes taking place outdoors during the daytime. Some scenes indoors and with darker lighting are handled much better, but still aren’t great. Overall, Spanglish represents a poor effort from Columbia Tri-Star in the video department, particularly when the packaging boasts that it has been mastered in High Definition.

The sole audio option for Spanglish is 5.1 Dolby Digital in English and French (oddly enough Spanish is omitted here). There isn’t much to say one way or the other about the audio quality. Hisses and pops are not present, nor are there any channel errors. Dialogue comes out very clearly, mostly out of the front channels, and isn’t ever drowned out by any other sound effect (as there are not many present). The sound mix isn’t impressive by any means, but one doesn’t normally expect anything spectacular in the sound department from a dramatic comedy. No complaints here on the audio quality.

Fans of Spanglish and DVD extras will not be disappointed in what is being offered on this single disc edition of the film. The DVD offers an audio commentary featuring writer/director James L. Brooks along with editors Richard Marks and Tia Nolan. While Marks and Nolan only occasionally chime in, Brooks offers some insight to the process of making his film, sharing a couple anecdotes along the way. His thoughts help flesh out the story as he shares the motivations for his characters in addition to explaining some of the creative choices he made. Brooks’ enthusiasm for Leoni’s performance almost takes away from the legitimacy of the commentary, but I digress. The three also provide commentary on the twelve deleted scenes on the disc.  

The twelve deleted scenes amount to about a half hour of cut footage from the film. Most of them are filler moments and would only have slowed the film down even more. One notable moment that was left out of the film is where Flor and John embrace each other romantically. This would have had major ramifications on how their characters would have been perceived, and in my opinion Brooks made the proper decision in leaving it out. Again a commentary track is available for all the deleted scenes, accentuating the decisions to leave out the scenes. Casting sessions are also available on the disc for Paz Vega, Sarah Steele, and Shelbie Bruce.  

Moving along, the disc also has two featurettes, the first being an HBO First Look at the making of Spanglish. It’s worth one viewing, as we get some interviews with the crew and some reflection on the development of the story. One interesting piece of information divulged is that the film was shot sequentially. How to Make the World’s Greatest Sandwich is the other featurette hosted by chef Tomas Keller of the French Laundry. He shows us how to make the BLT sandwich that Adam Sandler prepares in the film. The chef also talks about parts of his life which led to some inspirations for the film.

Finally, a DVD-Rom feature is available where one can watch the film while viewing the script for the film. Overall, the disc is packed with extras that are worth watching that you won’t be disappointed in. Try watching the sandwich feature on a date followed by making the food itself, the results should be fun. Perhaps this should have been a two disc edition, allowing for more space for the video quality to fare better than it did.

For most Spanglish is not the type of film that will change their outlook on life. The motifs are ones that will be recognized immediately, as its themes have been played over and over again in cinema. There are some cute moments and a few laughs, but they are dropped in too far apart on a film that is about twenty minutes too long. Despite the detriment that Tea Leoni brought to the rest of the cast, there are still some performances that make Spanglish worth watching. Combined with the nice set of extras Columbia Tri-Star provides, the film is at least worth a rental. It’s a nice film for a quiet evening in with the family or for a dinner and a movie date, but it’s re-watch value is dismal.