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James L. Brooks

Directed by: James L. Brooks
(Columbia Tri-Star)
Writer-director James L. Brooks’ first film since 1997’s double Oscar-winner As Good as it Gets features, as that film did, an inherently unlikable central character. But Tea Leoni is not Jack Nicholson—she doesn’t have decades of caricature to fall back on, no built-in audience affection. And so her Deborah Clasky, a harsh, self-absorbed upper-class mother of two who cluelessly alienates everyone around her, blows through the oddly endearing movie like a tonal hurricane, dragging it from soppy rom-com to wacky culture-shock comedy to melodrama. It would be a tour de force in a film with focus, but Spanglish—at its most basic, about a Mexican woman (Paz Vega) who tries to find a better life for her daughter as the housekeeper at a famous chef’s (Adam Sandler) mansion—is all over the damn place. Brooks says in his commentary that he was “up against a release date” then quickly adds, “not that I would’ve changed that much anyway,” which has to be bullshit considering the constant genre-jumping and narration, a lazy device for a filmmaker who’s better than that. The overlong running time (2:10) doesn’t save it, but it’s not enough to cancel out Broadcast News or anything. Rent it if everything else is out.
—Tara Thorne

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What’s the scariest Halifax ghost story?

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