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4 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Broken English (2007)
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by brianorndorf

"Parker Posey hurt and real is worth the price of admission"
4 stars

Anxiety, doubt, fear. Those are all emotions tied to the process of dating and the goal of unconditional love, and they make for a great movie. “Broken English” isn’t a particularly bracing romantic comedy, yet it employs a curious sugared rawness that makes it memorable and alive.

Nora (Parker Posey) is a single woman without any luck in the game of love. Burning through a string of lousy dates and boyfriends, Nora finds her curiosity piqued when she’s introduced to Julian (Melvil Poupaud), a Frenchman who seems to understand Nora and challenges her insecurities. The two strike up a quickromance, but when Julian must return to France, it leaves Nora caught between atrophying in her life and taking a chance on love for the very first time.

Part of the prickliness entrenched in the material can be traced back to writer/director Zoe Cassavetes, the daughter of actress Gena Rowlands and legendary filmmaker John Cassavetes. Like her brother Nick (“The Notebook”), I can’t image holding the Cassavetes name is a walk in the park, especially when you find the urge to make a movie. In many ways, “Broken English” is a softball pitch of a first film, but it’s also a smart bet that demonstrates the lineage is still fascinated by the impulses of the human heart.

I described “English” earlier as a romantic comedy, and to a certain degree that’s what the film ultimately is. It’s not a sitcom and the footprints of cliché rarely intrude on the screenplay, but Cassavetes is working with a recognized ingredient here: the path of the single woman to her one true love. It’s a hackneyed template to what becomes a complicated, troubled little film.

Nora is a stormy ocean of problems and doubts, and Cassavetes seems fascinated with this complicated creation. Struggling to stay involved in her own life, Nora relies on luck to get her through the dating scene, but the men constantly disappoint her. The director explores the degenerative effects of Nora’s pain through the comedic results of her choice in dates and the darker side of panic as she fears her life will curl up and die without a partner. The promise of a spinster future sends Nora to the self-medicating shores of wine and anti-anxiety pills.

Even through a series of wildly funny humiliations and dark psychological corners for Nora to discover, Cassavetes is madly in love with this character and strives fiercely to keep the viewer in step with Nora’s convoluted thought process. It helps to have an ace like Parker Posey in the role of Nora; the actress nestled spectacularly into a golden age of her career where she’s playing complicated women and finally delivering complicated performances.

Posey is a blossoming flower in “English,” lending Nora a faint glimmer of bravery underneath miles of defeat. Truthfully, the role is an actor’s buffet of emotional speeds and revelations, but Posey never winks at the camera or plays it too lightly. The actress trusts Cassavetes has the character’s best interests at heart and comfortably crumbles into a nervous pile of sad, balled up on her bed wishing the world would just go away.

The flipside to this is Julian’s effect on Nora. At first presented as yet another sleazeball trying to nail Nora and disappear the next morning, the screenplay slowly draws their attraction out. Julian pushes Nora out of her protect bubble and that flight of insecurity is flawlessly expressed by Posey. The last act of the film is Nora in Paris exploring her happiness, and the performance is just as detailed and knotty as before, only now Nora is close to locating her worth for the first time in a very long time.

“Broken English” is paced somewhat oddly and doesn’t offer the causal viewer many recognizable bumps in story design or payoff. It’s a return of sorts to the stripped-down indie roots of the elder Cassavetes, yet informed with a modern yearn that keeps it relatable and out of the jaws of pretense. Even if the idea of a spin around the foibles of romance racetrack seems repulsive, see the film for Posey’s dynamically nuanced performance. It’s worth a view just to witness her best screen work to date.

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originally posted: 06/22/07 21:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Deep Focus Film Festival For more in the 2007 Deep Focus Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2007 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/18/07 William Goss Posey's at her most relaxed in otherwise middling rom-com. 3 stars
9/07/07 Cary Kenney Awesome cast, and original score. Terrific film. 5 stars
8/26/07 Brandon Wright Parker Posey at her best! The music is amazing too! 5 stars
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