Broken English (2007)Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 07/06/07 13:44:32
SCREENED AT THE 2007 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The late, great John Cassavetes is known among cineastes as the godfather of indie filmmaking. Beginning in 1959 with "Shadows," a groundbreaking combination of social commentary, improvisational acting, and a cinema vťritť filmmaking style, all on a limited budget. For roughly the next twenty years, Cassavetes mixed mainstream acting roles (he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1967 for his role in "The Dirty Dozen") with independent films ("Gloria," "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie," "A Woman Under the Influence," "Husbands," "Faces"). His children, Nick and Zoe, have followed in his footsteps. Nick has directed "Alpha Dog," "The Notebook," "John Q," and "She's So Lovely." Zoe has written and directed two feature-length films, 2000ís "Men Make Women Crazy Theory" and now "Broken English," a light, lightweight romantic comedy with indie-art pretensions.In her mid-thirties, Nora Wilder (Parker Posey) feels pressured to find a life partner before encroaching middle age leaves her desperate and alone. Noraís fears and anxieties are heightened when she drops in on Audrey (Drea de Matteo) and Mark Andrewsí (Tim Guinee) fifth wedding anniversary. Noraís mother, Vivien (Gena Rowlands), constantly reminds of her romantic failings. Noraís job managing guest relations at a high-end Manhattan hotel seems like a good set up for a romantic relationship with a high-maintenance guest, Nick Gable (Justin Theroux), a Mohawk-sporting action star every bit as self-centered and dim-witted as he first appears.
After a promising date set up by her mother turns sour, Nora seems ready to give up on the dating game until she meets another hotel guest, Julien (Melvil Poupaud), a Frenchman working in Manhattan on a film shoot as a sound technician. Heís also recovering from the end of a romantic relationship. Noraís initial resistance gives way to Julienís charms until she discovers that heís leaving at the end of the weekend. Julien, however, seems besotted with Nora and invites her to Paris. She hesitates, but when she decides to visit Paris with Audrey, but a series of complications conspire to separate the two lovers before Nora is forced to return to Manhattan.
Sadly, Broken English isnít particularly new, fresh, or original. Far from it, actually. Zoe Cassavetes borrows plot elements from the romantic comedy genre. Unhappy both personally and professionally, Nora Wilder is set up for the familiar journey of self-discovery. She has to overcome bad decision making when it comes to men, family pressures to settle down quickly before itís too late, her friendsí seemingly perfect marriage (itís not, of course), and doubts about the too-perfect Julien. On top of all that, Nora has to decide whether to give everything up and try to find Julien in Paris. Itís all extremely predictable up to and including the end point of Noraís journey of self-discovery and the last scene thatís meant to be positive for the newly empowered Nora, but all-too-familiar for the rest of us. Filming Broken English on location in Manhattan using handheld cameras only takes Zoe Cassavetes (and us) so far and itís not far at all.If anything comes close to saving "Broken English" from joining the swelling ranks of maudlin, pedestrian romantic comedies, it isn't the hipness or edge (both superficial), or Zoe Cassavetes' writing (some of it perceptive), but Parker Posey, the so-called Queen of the Indies (per Time Magazine). Posey has undeniable charisma and with acting talent that allows her to shift from one emotional extreme to another, often within the same scene, she's nothing less than watchable in "Broken English." Whatever her faults as a writer/director, Cassavetes choice for male lead, Melvil Poupaud, was a solid one. Together, Posey and Poupaud share an easy-going, naturalistic chemistry that makes the strangers-falling-in-love over a weekend scenario easy to accept. Their chemistry comes close to saving "Broken English." Unfortunately, it doesnít come close enough.
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