Brain circuits, reconnecting. Reality, resurfacing. Noises in head, stopping. Aaaaahhhhhhh!. Back to normal. Hopefully, the nightmares will stop.
Deborah Clasky (Tea Leoni, Mrs. David Duchovny. Let’s face it, she isn’t known for her work in movies.), is the…
Uh, oh. Didn’t get far. Brain circuits breaking free, disconnecting from the matter, won’t let me remember Tea Leoni’s God awful performance in “Spanglish”, the newest film from writer – director James L. Brooks (“Broadcast News”, “Terms of Endearment”). Move on to another topic before brain shuts down and the drool starts.
Remember when James L. Brooks used to make really good films for adults? I know, its getting a little difficult, but make good films he did. “Terms of Endearment” and “Broadcast News” earned a bucket load of award nominations and awards for the various stars involved. Why? Because they were good films, with somewhat believable characters who did funny things or lived through very dramatic events. In the last decade, he has made three films. One of these was “As Good As It Gets” and sort of made people forget the debacle of “I’ll Do Anything”, his “musical without music” starring Nick Nolte. Then he made “Spanglish”.
…matriarch of an affluent family living in Brentwood. Recently downsized, she finds she has a lot of time on her hands and naturally decides to hire a housekeeper.
Why won’t the voices stop? What? Leoni’s shrill voice is still rattling around in my head? What? Stop it, Tea. Leave my brain immediately. I need to finish the review in order to purge the demons…
From the moment we meet Deborah, we realize that something is wrong with this woman; she talks a mile a minute, she never shuts up for anyone, she appears to be taking some sort of medication, perhaps Speed, but no mention is ever made of this. So what is the excuse for her to act like this? Even if she were taking medication, it would take a lot of explanation to make her behavior acceptable. Her daughter, Bernie (Sarah Steele), a slightly pudgy young girl with braces, makes a sandwich which everyone loves. Deborah takes a bite and practically swoons and then says “But you really don’t need that”, referring to her daughter’s slightly pudgy state. Later, having returned from a warehouse sale, Deborah presents her daughter with bags full of new clothes. Excitedly, Bernie starts to try them on and realizes they are too small, all a size 8. “Don’t worry, honey. You’ll fit into them real soon.” Groan. The woman is a monster and shouldn’t be allowed to raise these kids. Their son only appears in two or three scenes. Apparently, there was no dramatic material there.
John Clasky (Adam Sandler) wakes up the next morning to find Flor (Paz Vega) cleaning the house. He didn’t realize that Deborah -- the voices are ringing again -- had hired someone. John owns a small restaurant (modeled after the French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s restaurant) which is receiving a lot of good praise. John learns that Flor speaks no English, but she does understand quite a bit. Flor is amazed to see how Deborah treats Bernie and takes all of the clothes, letting out hems and fixing them, to make them fit. This makes Flor Bernie’s new best friend. Evelyn (Cloris Leachman), Deborah’s mom, a former Jazz singer who lives with the family is intent on drinking as much wine during any given day as possible and providing sage advice to her daughter as she see fit. As the summer approaches, Deborah decides to rent a summer house in Malibu…
Does not compute. Why would someone in Brentwood rent a summer home in Malibu? It doesn’t make any sense. The weather is so much colder in Brentwood during the summer? If you are unfamiliar with the two, they are about ten to fifteen miles apart. Unfortunately, I am aware that people actually do this. Worse yet, as soon as they move, it becomes apparent that John will continue to commute to his restaurant. Business is booming because he just received four stars from the Times. The place is booked solid for four months. And Deborah, with her shrill, puffy face, crying all the time, screaming, or worse yet, talking a mile a minute, will continue to drive around, looking for something to occupy her time.
Deborah insists Flor move into the summer house with them. Flor’s daughter, Cristina (Shelbie Bruce), has to move in as well. Deborah immediately latches onto the young girl and treats her like a life size Barbie doll, making her the new ‘project’. She takes her to have her hair highlighted, to see a private school, etc., all without Flor’s knowledge. Naturally, the first thing any of us would do is allow someone like Deborah to repeatedly influence our child, after watching the success she has had in her relationship with her own daughter, Bernie.
Brain at critical stage. Meltdown imminent. Must purge it of all thoughts of Leoni’s performance. Must finish review. Quickly.
It amazes me that anyone, anywhere thought Tea Leoni’s performance was good, acceptable and film worthy; a combination of hysterics, crying, over-the-top acting and so much more. Maybe there are real people who act like this, but that doesn’t mean that we have to pay to watch them for two hours. Always crying, talking hysterically, bossing people around, etc., etc. Considering how many people work on any given film it amazes me that someone, anyone didn’t say “Ah…Mr. Brooks?”. Brooks, Leoni, Sandler, the producers, the studio executives, David Duchovny, they all apparently thought that this performance was real and believable. It is easily one of the worst performances I have ever seen on film, or television, for that matter. In one scene, Deborah learns about the four star review of her husband’s restaurant. This apparently excites her and she attacks him, pushing him into their bedroom, straddling him on the bed. John (Sandler) seems to enjoy the fact that she is taking control. “You don’t even need me, do you?” he laughs. She rides him to her finish and then immediately begins crying and her face becomes puffy and sad. Oh my God. Every time she appeared on screen, I felt like poking my eardrums out, to save the torture.
Brain levels lowering, don’t really have to think about Leoni much anymore. Feeling better.
The rest of “Spanglish” is acceptable. Billed as a “Comedy with a language all its own”. It isn’t very funny. Once of twice, I smiled, but I never laughed. Basically, everything they do is dramatic.
It is also difficult to get past the contrived set-up for telling the story. An Admissions Officer at Princeton reads the admissions essay from Cristina, presumably 6 or 7 years later. In her essay, Cristina relates the events of her mother working for the Clasky family. How does Cristina know what the first meeting between her mother and Deborah was like? She wasn’t there. How does she know how Deborah reacted to John’s four star review? Clearly, she wasn’t in their bedroom. It is difficult to imagine that someone would relate these stories, and others, to her. This is a sloppy, poorly executed method for telling the story.
The production values in any Brooks’ film will be of the highest standards. “Spanglish” doesn’t disappoint there. Everything is crisp, clear, pretty. There is one exception. There are a couple of scenes with characters in cars, having a conversation as someone is driving. A couple of decades ago, these scenes would be shot in a studio, using a fake car, with the scenery projected behind the actors. In the last few decades, they have advanced this process, usually shooting in a real car, on the road. In “Spanglish”, they have regressed. It is so obvious that a significant portion of these scenes were shot in a studio making me question why? Think of the Roger Moore James Bond films. Whenever he had to jump out of a plane, the close-ups would always have his hair moving in an unnatural way. This is because he was shot in front of a blue screen and the scenery was added later. They weren’t able to make his hair flow freely. Apparently, they weren’t able to make Leoni’s hair flow freely either.
Oh, oh. Mentioned Leoni. Brain levels back at medium, rising, rising. Must purge of all of her memories.
After Flor’s daughter moves in, Deborah begins to manipulate her and Flor, because she thinks Flor’s daughter is beautiful. You see, she doesn’t think her own daughter is beautiful. Now she has the daughter she always wanted. Flor’s daughter is accepted at Bernie’s school, Deborah gives her an expensive necklace on her first day, buys her books for her, insists that she invite her friends over to their house for a sleepover. Who thought this was an interesting, believable, watchable story? Someone was very misguided. I’m looking at you, Mr. Brooks.
Every so often an actor or actress will give the performance of their career, overshadowing all others. The film becomes “Their Film”. They earn all of the notice. Tea Leoni has done that in “Spanglish”. It doesn’t matter that Paz Vega gives a very good, believable performance as Flor, it doesn’t matter that Adam Sandler does some good, if unspectacular work, it doesn’t matter that Cloris Leachman is even in the film. The film is all about Leoni. And not in a good way. Her performance is so bad, she creates a black hole sucking all of the other actors in.
Hopefully, they will get out in time and move on to other projects. Hopefully, Tea will take some acting classes and learn the art of subtlety. Hopefully, I will make a million dollars tomorrow. We can all dream.
Aaaahhh, brain levels back to normal. Circuits rewiring. Can sleep again. Night night.