Spanglish: Bob Marshak
August 10, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT


Current Status
In Season
128 minutes
Wide Release Date
Tea Leoni, Adam Sandler, Cloris Leachman, Paz Vega
James L. Brooks
Sony Pictures Entertainment
James L. Brooks
Comedy, Romance
We gave it a D

When James L. Brooks makes a movie — which isn’t often — Oscar balloters tend to pay attention. His 1983 feature debut, ”Terms of Endearment,” won five golden guys; 1997’s ”As Good as It Gets” nabbed two. So what’s the handicapping like for ”Spanglish”? Right now, the self-doubting filmmaker sounds like he’s got no idea. He wrapped shooting in May, and asked to sum up the movie, he says, ”If I could do that, we would have had a trailer out already. I think I’ve never juggled so many characters.”

Adam Sandler plays John Clasky, a successful chef who becomes unhappily super-successful when his restaurant lands a four-star rating (a plotline Brooks helped authenticate by hanging out with celeb cook Thomas Keller). Meantime, the highly neurotic Mrs. Clasky (Téa Leoni) hires a beautiful, single-mom Latina housekeeper named Flor (Paz Vega, a Spanish film star making her English-language debut). Sparks fly between the husband and the help, and a cataclysmic domestic devolution begins. Says Brooks: ”I think at its core, it’s a romantic comedy. It has romance in it, and we’re trying to be funny. At a certain point, you don’t know how it’s going to end. You can’t figure out how it possibly could end. And that’s because I didn’t know, but I just kept on pursuing it.”

Brooks initially hired Anne Bancroft to play Leoni’s mother, a sharp-tongued alcoholic who used to be a jazz singer. But four weeks into shooting, Bancroft had to undergo minor surgery for an undisclosed problem. She couldn’t return to work in a timely fashion, so Cloris Leachman — an old Brooks pal from his days running ”The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — stepped in as a replacement (and in doing so, says Brooks, she asked, ”Why didn’t you just hire me in the first place?”). Says Leoni: ”The whole dynamic was changed. I had to figure out who I was all over again.”

WHAT’S AT STAKE Sandler’s chance to build on the prestige-project cred he first aimed for with ”Punch-Drunk Love.”

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