BROKEN ENGLISH (2007)
Starring Parker Posey, Drea DeMatteo, Melvil Poupaud, Gena Rowlands, Peter Bogdanovich, Roy Thinnes, Michael Panes, Philip Pavel, Justin Theroux, Tim Guinee and Dana Ivey.
Written by Zoe Cassavettes.
Directed by Zoe Cassavettes.
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Broken English writer/director Zoë Cassavettes is the latest to make a mark from a famous cinematic family. Her mother is actress Gena Rowlands (who does a cameo as the main character’s mother.) Father is the respected late writer/director/actor John Cassavettes. (In fact, Zoë made her film debut — playing a baby — in her parents’ 1971 film Minnie and Moskowitz.) Brother Nick has also written and directed a few times.
Zoë has inherited the family’s talent for taking sometimes uncomfortably personal looks at the complicated lives of city-dwellers. Also like many of the films created by her family, her movie is consistently interesting, artistic and well done, but not quite as good as it could be.
Broken English is the story of Nora (Parker Posey), a career woman in her 30s who is extremely competent at her job as the social director of an upscale New York hotel. Her job isn’t making her happy anymore and her love life is a complete disaster.
Not exactly the most original storyline, but Broken English does have an interesting and surprising point of view which often saves it from turning clichéd. We watch Nora go through a series of disastrous short-lived relationships before she meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud), a charming French man who is also living through a romantic hell (his girlfriend dumped him after he went to New York to be with her.)
We never doubt for a second that Julien is the right man for her, but with her inability to to trust allows him to return to France without her despite the fact that he invited her to accompany him.
However, the sense of possible loss forces Nora to completely rethink her life, and in a frankly slightly over-the-top reassessment of her life she quits her job and talks her best friend (Drea DeMatteo) into accompanying her to Paris to find her lost love.
This plan is not exactly well thought out. She has his phone number — and yet she doesn’t bother to call him to let him know she is coming. When she gets to the City of Lights, she quickly loses the piece of paper with his number (which makes no sense because it should have been the most important thing she brought on the trip — and why didn’t she program his number into her cell phone anyway?)
Interestingly, this plot loophole is where the film becomes its most intriguing. In Paris with no idea how to find Julien, Nora just starts wandering the streets aimlessly. She has almost no chance of finding the man, but along the way she finds herself. Nora loses some of the desperate need for a relationship and learns how to love herself from French people she meets along the way. This section takes the plot into interesting and unexpected directions and gives the plot a weight and significance that it had only hinted at previously.
I’m not sure exactly why this film was called Broken English — other than to give them a chance to do a cover of the trés-cool Marianne Faithfull song of the same name over the closing credits. (Which I suppose is a good enough excuse.) Yes, there are a couple of awkward gags where Nora misunderstands words in French accents (thinking “hungry” is “angry” and “happiness” is “have penis”), but those are just throwaway moments.
Strangely, the film ends on a very odd note. Broken English uses the exact same last two lines of dialogue as Before Sunset, another (and frankly, a better) film with a similar storyline — about an American running into a French lover in Paris. For the record, the lines were:
“You’re going to miss your plane.”
Fade to black. Roll credits. Broken English repeats this word for word, action for action.
Now I’m not saying every audience in the world will notice this little crib. Hell, giving her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Cassavettes wasn’t even aware of it. However, bringing the memory of Before Sunset to mind did Broken English no favors in my book, it just reminded me how much more likable and complex the characters in the other film were. Frankly, it was unneeded, because I liked the film just fine on its own before the connection was made. It was an unnecessary distraction for an otherwise interesting film.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 2, 2007.