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Adam Sandler is like Marmite—you either love him or you hate him. His often angry outbursts and aggressive behaviour can be seen as childish or can be related to as ‘what we’ve always wanted to do but never dared to’. Whilst I hate Marmite, I think Sandler is hilarious and tend to relate to the characters he portrays in his movies more than I probably should. Happy Gilmore is probably still my favourite, and shows the benchmark level of humour which many of his other films—The Waterboy, Big Daddy and Mr. Deeds—strive to achieve. After these he collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson to produce the fantastic Punch-Drunk Love, a similarly themed but much more adult drama than he had previously undertaken and followed it with quite an endearing performance in the heart-warming comedy 50 First Dates. Soon he will be seen on our screens in a remake of The Longest Yard, but in the meantime I took a look at Spanglish, his recent collaboration with the masterful writer and director of movies like As Good As it Gets, James L. Brooks.

Spanglish
Film
When her husband is out of the picture, Flor and her daughter Christina take the big leap and move from their Mexican roots across the border to L.A. There they struggle for the first few years—keeping to themselves and out of trouble—but then Flor’s cousin introduces her to an American family household where she goes to work as the housekeeper. Even though she does not speak a word of English, it does not take long for her to understand the workings of this disjointed family unit.

The Clasky household is run by Deborah, a neurotic wreck of a woman who is so utterly painful to behold but at the same time, frighteningly believable. It somehow makes it so much worse that I genuinely believe that there are women out there who can be this bad at both being a wife and a mother, and more generally just a human being. Half of the time, Deborah is so self-absorbed that she does not even notice that she is trampling over the feelings of her friends and family—in particular her horrendously unsympathetic treatment of her self-conscious daughter Bernice. It is a horror to see and often quite cringe-worthy—in much the same way that the David Brent character in the superior comedy series The Office is painful to watch. Her husband, John, is a super-successful chef who is under pressure at work because his restaurant is being reviewed in a major broad-spread. At home, he is a well of restraint and resentment, trying desperately to care for his children and pander to his wife’s neuroses at the same time—two things which are often in conflict with one another. When Flor comes into his life, the language barrier is something of a relief as he is able to get a lot of feelings off his chest without her understanding anything but the sentiment. After an eventful summer spent by the sea, all of the very different individuals find themselves changing—often for the better—and coming to terms with the realisation that their lives will never be the same.

James L. Brooks has written and directed an unusual little comedy-drama here which, I guess, should not come as a surprise given his talent for creating some unique and wonderful movies. Shifting the focus seamlessly between the central characters, he paints a picture of two cultures colliding, often clashing, and the impact that the family units have on one another. His keen observations of the subtle nuances within a regular nuclear family are often the source of much humour, but in an ‘I can relate to that’ kind of way, which is thoroughly refreshing. Whilst seldom voyaging into undiscovered territory, the normality of the story is largely overcome by the detail and depth of the characters he creates. Of course, the actors themselves really bring said characters to life. Although Adam Sandler is easily the biggest name in this movie, the central character, and thus lead actor, is probably Flor, played superbly by relative newcomer (at least in terms of Hollywood—you can find her in Spain’s revealing Sex and Lucia) Paz Vega. More often than not she has to express herself with actions and gestures rather than words and she does a great job of capturing a strongly disciplined woman who is determined to resist change from her increasingly American environment. She does not want either her daughter or herself to be affected by the troubled Clasky family but gradually, over time, finds herself drawn in. Paz Vega does a great job in the role, as convincing in her lack of understanding of English as she is with her confused feelings towards the different household members.

Spanglish
Though it would seem as if Sandler underplays his role quite a bit, this in itself is an amazing feat for him. I have been used to his loud, brash and aggressive characters, so this more restrained and bottled-up role is a superb opportunity to show some real range in his acting abilities. It is not the first time that Sandler has pulled off such an unusual performance—director Paul Thomas Anderson cultivated a similar change in style of acting from him in Punch-Drunk Love, but here the character is more subtle and basically more normal, making him easier to relate to. Though I love all the old Sandler comedies, it was really nice to see him do something like this to broaden his repertoire. A great deal of credit should probably go to Téa Leoni, who plays the neurotic wife Deborah. The trouble is that I hated her character so much that some of that dislike probably biased my sentiments towards the actress, when in fact it should only go to show how good an actress she is. Unfortunately I am not entirely convinced that she this was a particularly hard part for her to play—it is not a million miles from her scatty, ditzy roles in films like Bad Boys, it has just been exaggerated here to the point of saturation. Still, she is utterly convincing in a role which is pivotal to the story, even if she may get tainted by this part in much the same way that Ricky Gervais will never out-live his David Brent character in The Office.

First and foremost a cultural family drama, the comedy is often spawned from misunderstandings and the romance is often a side dish. As such, it may not fully satisfy those of you who want some laugh-out-loud hilarity in their comedies, tear-jerking angst in their dramas, or even syrupy sweetness in their romances. But as a combination of the three, the movie works extremely well—in no small part thanks to fabulous performances and solid direction. If you don’t like Adam Sandler, then you should not be worried as this is not a stereotypical Sandler movie, and if you do like him then you might be pleasantly surprised by an atypical offering from it. I think it’s well worth you time.

Video
Spanglish is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. The detail is pretty fantastic, with clarity throughout and no softness. There is little noticeable edge enhancement and no sign of other digital artefacting. The colour scheme is broad and luscious—portraying the movie as summery and warm—and the colours are always well observed. Black levels are good, with solid, deep shadow and no noticeable grain. There is also no print damage in the form of scratches or defects and overall this is a pretty damn good-looking transfer.

Spanglish
Audio
The main audio track is a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 effort with the emphasis on the all-important dialogue—coming through the frontal array. The small effects noises, mainly kitchen or car related, are keenly observed but the most noticeable aspect of the track is the score than runs throughout all of the important scenes. Brooding and tapping along in the background it often heightens the humour and certainly creates the right atmosphere for the movie. Perhaps not the most powerful soundtrack that I have come across it is still quite a moving, absorbing affair. There is also a Spanish 5.1 track and an English Audio Descriptive option.

Extras
First up there is an audio commentary with the writer and director of Spanglish, James L. Brooks, along with the editors Richard Marks and Tia Nolan. Recorded a month after the movie was released, they jump straight in with talk of re-shoots and alternative versions—the opening section was changed to create a different tone to the movie and change the movie’s perspective. I’m not sure whether I agree with their choice, but nevertheless it’s nice to understand what happened. They discuss the huge cuts they made to the set-up part of the first act and various other sections, and then move onto the casting choices they made. Interestingly, the director notes how his ‘clash’ with Téa Leoni was reported in the news at the time of filming. Apparently they both found it hard nailing the character she plays—admittedly it is not an easy role—but it is interesting to hear his side of the process. It is quite a nice little commentary but the two editors don’t really seem to do a great deal—other than the lady briefly noting how much she actually liked the horrible wife character—and are generally swamped by the director who probably should have just done this by himself.

Next we get twelve deleted scenes with optional commentary by the director. Unfortunately you cannot play them all without the commentary, although when you select to play them all with commentary, it is quite nice that you get a little introduction by the director over a short montage of clips. First up is an unnecessary two-minute scene where they make their journey to the States and a scene which extends the first introductory meeting between Flor and the Clasky. Then we get a four-minute scene with more Adam Sandler—always a good thing—and an excellent extension to the first argument about the breast. The next scene, between Flor and Deborah in the car seems a little unnecessary; though there is some nice impromptu singing and then we get another brief extension, this time to the scene where John is getting drunk in the refrigerated section of his restaurant—making it a little funnier. We get a minute of interaction between the kids, then a minute of Deborah being stupid to her daughter again, a pointless extension to the scene where Deborah’s mother is counselling her and a couple of unnecessary extensions to the cooking scene between John and Flor. Finally there is quite an interesting extension to the ending—even if it is also unnecessary. Overall, there are a few additions worth taking a look at, particularly if you like the movie. The thirty-one minute ‘play all with commentary’ option is fairly interesting as the director explains why the scenes were cut and the lost storylines involved but unfortunately he does not really talk a great deal, making the exercise somewhat pointless.

Spanglish
There is a thirteen-minute HBO ‘Making-of’ featuring interviews with all of the main cast and crew, including Adam Sandler and Téa Leone both talking about how great the director is, and the director himself discussing the characters. They spend a lot of time explaining the story that you already know and it is a ludicrously fluffy featurette with only a scattering of sound-bites from the people involved in proportion to the huge amount of film footage we get to pad it out. Still, they do manage to skip over the various cycles involved in the production—including casting and set design—with a certain divulgence of interesting titbits. The clips with Paz Vega, who clearly actually has very little knowledge of English in real life, are a particularly pleasant feature.

The ‘Casting Sessions’ featurette runs at a little over four minutes and has optional commentary with the director. They look at the young girl who was only involved in playing Flor’s daughter during the very first few minutes in the movie and then the girl who plays the older version of the daughter. We get a minute of audition with the girl who plays Deborah’s daughter and then the gem is a brief casting session between Paz Vega and Adam Sandler, where you can clearly see Vega’s talent—something reflected upon in the interesting if overly enthusiastic optional commentary.

Finally we get a featurette entitled ‘How to Make the World’s Greatest Sandwich’. Featuring the chef Thomas Keller, we spend five minutes in the kitchen where Adam Sandler is taught how to make the succulent sandwich that his character creates midway through the movie. Annoyingly, the director chips in with forced commentary during the featurette, but luckily he drops out in time for you to get most of what is being said and taught. At the very end there is a scrolling list of ingredients and recipe for how to make it yourself—believe me it looks delicious enough to be worth giving a try.

The DVD-Rom features include the complete screenplay, which I suspect would be quite interesting to compare to the final cut of the movie as—from what they stated on the commentary—they are very different indeed.

Spanglish
Overall
Spanglish is a lovely little warm family comedy-drama, centred on a bevy of brilliant and very unusual performances. Perhaps not to everybody’s taste and unlikely to spawn really strong sentiments of acclaim, it is still well worth taking a chance on. This release offers a fabulous transfer and solid sound, with a rich set of extras that offer just about everything you would want in the way of features. I would certainly recommend a rental to see if you like it and if you even suspect that you will like it, this release is only likely to positively compound that expectation.


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