All You Can Eat

Spanglish serves up too much of a good thing.

Paz Vega (left) is Adam Sandler's dream woman; Téa Leoni is his nightmare bride.
Paz Vega (left) is Adam Sandler's dream woman; Téa Leoni is his nightmare bride.
In Spanglish, which is less a story than a snapshot of a crumbling marriage populated by sitcom characters, Adam Sandler plays John Clasky, an average man with an above-average life. With his burgeoning double chin always covered in a slight shadow of stubble, he's a celebrated chef who runs his own fabulously successful restaurant in Beverly Hills and has a beautiful wife, Deborah (Téa Leoni), who's hellbent on keeping her body like that of a 20-year-old. He's also the father of George (Ian Hyland) and Bernice (Sarah Steele), two wise-beyond-their-years children, and he lives in a modestly palatial Westwood home, with room enough to stash his alcoholic mother-in-law, Evelyn (Cloris Leachman).

But beneath the perfect surface, trouble roils: Deborah's body may be in great shape, but it's all that remains from John and Deborah's early days as a married couple; she has no time for John and, ultimately, no need for him either, except as provider of a pampered lifestyle. (Even during lovemaking, he's an afterthought.) More shallow than a kiddie pool, she even seems to loathe her children: She taunts Bernice by buying her clothes too small for her ample frame and ignores George altogether, except to tell him she's angry with him -- for what reason, we have no idea. Precisely why John and Deborah are married at all remains a mystery; they're barely in like, much less in love.

Into this cauldron of spite and ennui enters Flor (Paz Vega), the mother Bernice always wanted and the wife John craves. She's everything Deborah isn't -- chiefly, a human being possessing decency, compassion, and love.

In this house, full of envy and malevolence and bickering, it is all John can do to keep from losing his temper, his mind, and what's left of his soul. And in this role, Sandler is perfect; he always is when asked to play the put-upon man who feels more than he will ever permit himself to say. John, like Sandler's Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love or even Robbie Hart in The Wedding Singer, is a sweet, gentle man, who would hurt no one and help anyone; his relationship with Bernice, especially, is lovely, that of the father who would rather celebrate his daughter's "odd" qualities than demand that she look and act like all the other boring stick figures in Westwood. He's the kind of man who fears four-star reviews from The New York Times food critic, because of the pressure such praise would bring; better to exist "below the radar," which would be, for him, "a good, solid life," where no one could or would bother him.

Writer-director James L. Brooks, a maker of solid and decent movies (among them Broadcast News and As Good as It Gets) that occasionally play like long sitcom pilots with too much heart for their own good, adores John and wants the best for him. There are moments here that will break your heart, that feel as real as anything can when written in transcribed Sitcomese. But Brooks goes on and on, until we're no longer moved, but just a little tired.

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