It's hard to imagine any major studio releasing a film about mothers and daughters, but here is Spanglish, the new film by James L. Brooks. Because he has a few movies to his name like Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good As It Gets, Brooks has enough clout to make the movies he wants to make. This is a relationship and character driven drama that aspires to greatness but because Brooks tries too hard, has to be content with mediocrity. There is another surprising performance from Adam Sandler (50 First Dates, Anger Management), who proves again after Punch-Drunk Love that he can really act. It would be nice if he gave up his lame comedic shtick in favor of more serious roles, but that is unlikely to happen.

The real discovery is Spanish actress Paz Vega (Talk to Her, The Other Side of the Bed). Vega, who first came to attention in America when she scorched up the screen in Sex and Lucia, is a fantastic actress. She is already wildly popular in her native Spain, and Brooks gives her a chance to shine here. She plays Flor, a single mother who puts the interests of her daughter ahead of everything else. Vega brings a sense of wonderful sense of humanity to Flor. She is warm and humane, and this radiates off the screen. Flor moved to America from Mexico (no offense, but her Mexican accent is horrible) with her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) for a better life. She lived deep in Spanish speaking Los Angeles, venturing out only after realizing she needed more money in order to raise Cristina.

She lands a job with the Claskys, a family ready to implode. John (Sandler) is a famous chef, who, like Flor, values his time with his children more than anything else. His wife Deborah (Tea Leoni, Hollywood Ending, Jurassic Park III), once a high-powered executive, is adjusting to life as a stay-at-home mother. Adjusting badly at that. Because of the aims of the script, Leoni must play a monster. She has no maternal instincts, and is the cause of every familial rift, as well as the instigator of a series of events that really perturbs Flor. Flor is disgusted at how Deborah treats her daughter Bernice (Shelbie Bruce), who is overweight. She buys her clothes, which delights Bernice, until Bernice discovers the clothes are too small. This is Deborah's way of getting Bernice to lose weight. Deborah also clashes constantly with her alcoholic mother, played wonderfully by Cloris Leachman (Bad Santa, Alex & Emma).

Deborah instantly falls in love with Cristina, who is extremely polite, appreciative, and bright. Cristina is like Deborah's new project of the moment, and not only does it offend Flor, but it also dismays John and Bernice. Spanglish (a horrible title) is all about parenting and children. Flor and John feel a connection to each other because of they love they feel for their children, and it is this love that Deborah doesn't understand, and this draws her away. Although Brooks' intentions are genuine, the emotions in the film, especially from Leoni, feel artificial and manufactured, which puts a damper on much of the film. But Brooks knows where the strength of Spanglish lies, and continually goes back to Flor, who finds she needs to stretch herself and fight for what she believes is best for Cristina.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 9 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and brief language.

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