Movie: Spanglish

Our Rating: 3.50

Clumsy but well-intended, James L. Brooks' cross-cultural coming-of-age tale only occasionally succumbs to the slapstick impulses of garden-variety domestic dramedies. (Witness Téa Leoni's mugging as a fitness-crazed überbitch). Most of the time, though, the emphasis is on informed compassion, with an English-deficient Mexican housekeeper (Paz Vega) fighting to slow her daughter's assimilation into the L.A. Anglo-hood typified by her affluent employers (Adam Sandler, Leoni). The movie can't quite decide which of these intertwined families it's actually about, signifying a pervasive aimlessness: Subplots and entire characters vanish for extended stretches. But there are more than enough moments of progressively minded pith and non-nauseating tenderness to preserve your affection. The casting of newcomer Sarah Steele as a pubescent ugly duckling, meanwhile, is an unqualified success: That is one fat, homely kid.

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