Spanglish | EW.com

Movies

Tea Leoni, Adam Sandler, ...

(Spanglish: Bob Marshak)

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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