Writer/director James L. Brooks has a knack for bringing out the best – and worst – in even the most eccentric of characters. He did it in the mid 1980s with Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News and, more recently, with loveable lush Melvin Udall (played by Jack Nicholson) in 1997’s As Good as It Gets. Brooks adds yet another layer to his film successes with the comedy/romance Spanglish, in theaters Dec. 17 and starring Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni and Cloris Leachman.

In the film, an affluent L.A.-based family, headed by world-class chef John (Sandler) and eccentric live-in mom Deb (Leoni), are in need of a little cooking, cleaning and child-rearing help. Deb is wowed by Flor (Paz Vega) – a gorgeous, doe-eyed Mexican immigrant who doesn’t speak a single word of English – and hires her on the spot. What unfolds from here is a heartwarming film that both examines and manages to meld the beauties of two cultures, while deconstructing the problems that lie beneath the surface of what seems to be the ideal American family.

But the film’s not all drama. There are a lot of laughs to be had as well, especially with the characters, all of whom are extremely well-crafted by writer/director Brooks. There are two or more sides to be seen of each character, whether it’s Flor (who is content one moment but flies off the handle and vows to learn English when she feels her young daughter Cristina, played by Shelbie Bruce, is being mistreated), alcoholic-yet-wise grandmother Evelyn (Leachman) or troubled (but seemingly still in love) parents John and Deb.

Aside from Brooks’s writing and direction, the film works primarily because of its cast. Sandler exudes a wounded puppy dog-type charm, and Leoni – a mixed bag of emotions who’s thought of as the “bad guy” by her children – shows that she has a heart buried beneath her edgy exterior. Supporting player Leachman is a hoot and a half, and young Bruce is refreshingly bright, spunky and exuberant.

Grade: A-