Broken English

Broken English

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            “Broken English” has all the elements of a Woody Allen romantic comedy – neurotic New Yorkers, bad first dates, mild emotional betrayals, a glowing love of Paris, funny best friends – but is not played for romance or laughs. It is indeed about a single working woman in the big city, but it’s not about How She Finds Love and Happiness in the Most Unlikely of Places. “Broken English” is, rather, a meditation on loneliness, and how one can become painfully aware of their own faults.

            This approach (call it romantic tragedy) is ingenious, and offers a fresh look at often tired clichés. But, sadly, it is not strongly enough presented to really elevate the material. Director Zoë Cassavetes (daughter of John) does know how to construct a strong scene, and has a few beautiful moments of everyday pain and panic, but leaves the whole somewhat misshapen.


            Parker Posey, that brilliant and underrated comedienne, plays Nora Wilder, a professional woman in her mid-30s, managing a New York hotel. Her friend Audrey (Drea de Matteo) and her mom (Gena Rowlands), whenever she sees them, talk about nothing but how painfully single she is, and how she should just meet a nice guy. Nora would love to, but is either too busy, too afraid, or too unlucky to really succeed.


            She goes on a few first dates which end badly. The dates are not an amusing montage of lovable loser cartoons like in most romcoms, but a few real dates where the hope and sexual tension run high, and the letdown is all the more crushing. One guy, an actor (Justin Theroux) seems interested, and they get drunk and have sex. But, we learn in the most impersonal way possible, he’s dating someone else. She dates a sensitive movie lover who runs into is very-recent ex at the theater.


            She also finally meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud) at a party. Julien dresses and acts exactly like Belmondo in “Breathless,” and Nora is determined to resist his obviously lecherous advances. She ends up spending the entire evening with him, pushing away his kisses, and deflecting his advances. For this, though, and for some reason, Julien falls in love with her. Nora, determined not to be hurt, cannot accept that he is in love with her, and freaks out a lot. Julien then has to move to Paris.


            Nora and Audrey eventually trek off to Paris to find the guy. There are some weird and unnecessary subplots about some shady package delivery and perhaps finding Nora’s old roots.


            The music helps the film a lot. The electronic beats of Scratch Massive sound like the lovechild of Philip Glass and Aphex Twin, and create a frantic and swaddling atmosphere. Posey is wonderful, and Rowland and de Matteo add a lot of important oomph to their characters. Poupaud plays his part well, but seems to be an everylover.


            But the film just meanders too much. Once we learns what Nora’s true conflicts are, and what she must do to work through them, we trip off of that path, and trek out to Paris. We’re given unresolved subplots right near the end, and the film just starts to drag.

             Cassavetes obviously learned from her masterful father, and this is a far more mature first effort than many filmmakers, but I await the day when she really has the ability to blow me away.

Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 9:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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