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SPANGLISH (article first published : 2005-04-8)

Imagine a cross, both physically and as performers, between Penelope Cruz and Selma Hayek and you have an idea of what to expect from the gorgeous Paz Vega, a Spanish actress so good here, so delicious to look at, she's alone worth your ticket to Spanglish, this new film by James L Brooks.

Brooks, of course, is the talent behind the Oscar-winners Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets. His new film, his first in seven years, may not be in the same league as either of these successes, but it does have elements of both, being a glossy, polished, quirky comedy-drama with some wonderful highs. It is a film well-acted, flecked with good writing, draped with colourful characters and splashed with sentimentality.

Written and directed by Brooks, Spanglish refers to a meeting of the English and Spanish languages and represents the culture clash Vega faces in her role as Mexican immigrant Flor. She's a single mom who, with her young daughter Cristina (a lively Shelbie Bruce), heads for Los Angeles and, in spite of not understanding a word of English, finds a job as housekeeper for the Claskys.

This is a well-off family headed by top chef John (Adam Sandler) and his ultra-neurotic wife, Deborah, a fast-talking blonde who falls all over herself and others in her quest for perfection. She is played by an increasingly hysterical and irritating Tea Leoni.

Also in the household is Deborah's boozy, former singing star mother, played by the glorious Cloris Leachman, who we don't see enough of on screen anymore; and the Clasky children, most prominent of which is overweight Bernice (a delightful Sarah Steele).

The Claskys are one of the most dysfunctional of families, John being a long-suffering type with a grating wife, a guy unable to appreciate being rated as one of the best chefs in the country. He comes across as credible and amiable in a sweet and understated performance by Sandler, who is at his most chubby and even better here than he was in Punch Drunk Love. It's a performance light years away from the inane, goofy characters that made him his millions.

But it's Vega's movie and she is a constant joy as a woman battling to get to grips with a decidedly offbeat household and coming to the realisation that money doesn't necessarily buy happiness.

Brooks has created a slick and engaging film which, in spite of being a little long and too talky at times, remains worth seeing. Rating: 7/10. - Billy Suter




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