In Broken English, indie film star Parker Posey stars as Nora Wilder, an angry, closed-off, anxious New Yorker who can’t find love. To be honest, the rest of her life—except, possibly, best friend Audrey (Drea de Matteo) and Nora’s direct and motivated mother (Gena Rowlands)—is a mess. She has an unstimulating job at a hotel, she drinks too much, and she’s depressed. You can’t help but think she’s just not ready for love. She needs counseling, probably of the two- or three-sessions-per-week variety. She shouldn’t be dating.
But Zoe Cassavetes’s film has different ideas. At a party that she didn’t want to attend, Nora is forced to meet Julien, a young Frenchman played by Melvil Poupaud. Against the odds, Julien is taken with her. Despite Nora’s pessimism and moodiness, despite her over-the-top drinking, despite her full-fledged panic attack, Julien has a wonderful weekend with her. Frankly, it’s hard to see how Julien could possibly be enchanted by Nora, but apparently he is.
It won’t ruin any surprises if I tell you that there are still complications to be had, as the film is mostly about whether/how those complications are to be resolved. Nora redeems herself, somewhat, in the last third of the movie. She’s less self-pitying and more grown-up. In the end, though, it takes a literally unbelievable bit of plot development to usher in the closing credits. I wasn’t persuaded, and you likely won’t be, either.
The performances are much better than Cassavetes’s script. Posey—whom I last saw off-Broadway in Hurlyburly—provides Nora with the requisite world-weariness and edginess. De Matteo and Rowlands simply demand to be watched. But it’s Poupaud who’s the real revelation. He completely captures the honest, hangup-free Julien. In fact, he does his work so well that you can’t help but wonder what the hell Julien sees in Nora. I kept hoping he’d find a movie where he wasn’t the only stable, healthy character in sight….
I have a theory that one’s reaction to any movie about love is a product of two variables: how good the movie is and how it presses a viewer’s particular, er, love buttons. Broken English isn’t very good, but I did see that it moved a couple of my fellow movie-goers. If you’re a regular reader here, you know I have some fairly obvious love buttons. But Broken English couldn’t find them, and I’m betting it won’t find yours.
Broken English earns two-and-a-half stars.
P.S. For the second movie in a row, I found something puzzling in the New York Times review, this one by Matt Zoller Seitz. Seitz describes “a brief, awkward conversation in which Julien declares skepticism about monogamy and then reverses himself.” I don’t think that’s what happened in that conversation at all. If you see the movie, let me know what you think.