Broken English

(USA/France/Japan - 2007)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Parker Posey, Drea de Matteo, Melvin Poupard, Gena Rowlands, Tim Guinee, Peter Bogdanovich, Justin Theroux
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Director: Zoe R. Cassavetes
Screenplay: Zoe R. Cassavetes
Cinematography: John Pirozzi
Composer: -

Being held to the standard of your famous parents will always be the bane of the sibling’s existence (unless they manage to surpass them), and while it’s somewhat unfair I feel it impossible to view Zoe R. Cassavetes debut outside the giant shadow of her father John. In many senses that is a good thing, as since making his one good film She’s So Lovely from one of his father’s old scripts her brother Nick Cassavetes seems content to produce a series of Dogs that merely evoke John Q. Hack.

One the positive end of the comparison to John, Zoe also portrays human emotions truthfully. Her characters are believable human beings who seem to have actually lived, and thus have a history beyond what they’ll reveal to us for the benefit of the narrative. Their character is brought out through painful interactions, and they are fragile human beings who lose largely because they can’t help but defeat themselves. Genre never gets in the way of a soulful character study. Zoe exposes her star, occasionally hitting a nerve.

Broken English threatens to turn into Before Sunset in the final segment where Nora Wilder (Parker Posey) finally takes a chance and puts love above all else, pursuing the Frenchmen Julien (Melvil Poupaud) she fell in love with when he was vacationing in her New York City hometown, even repeating Richard Linklater’s ending though never mustering any truly memorable dialogue. However, where Zoe comes up as short as you’d expect is in allowing the movie to come off as a kind of modern politically correct version of John Cassavetes romantic comedy masterpiece Minnie & Moskowitz. Zoe very obviously brings a female perspective, but while heartfelt, like just about every other romance, her film is incredibly lightweight in comparison, lacking John’s charge and emotional violence. Whatever John’s liabilities were, the few times he didn’t fully succeed after he broke free from meddlesome studios, in Gloria & Big Trouble, were due to failing to go for broke. Broken English is heavier than those two, but it’s more of a foot in the door film than the kind of headfirst charging John did when he was at his best.

Minnie & Moskowitz featured a successful career woman (Zoe’s mom Gena Rowlands) who was incredibly unsuccessful in love. Though to a lesser extent than Broken English since Seymour Cassel had an equally large role while everyone in Broken English is very secondary to Parker Posey, both films were internal journeys of the woman to allow herself to accept and be loved by a man. Comedy is derived from the inability to find a man that is indeed acceptable, but the biggest problem with Broken English is Nora eventually does. The point of Minnie & Moskowitz is it wouldn’t matter who Rowlands found, she needed to change herself before the act of looking had any real point. Cassel’s parking valet was no catch, he’d be considered too far beneath the classy and dignified woman to even warrant considering. He was simply aggressive and assertive enough to break down the impenetrable wall Rowlands put up every time she met a man. Nora has every sort of depressed, delusional neurosis, but ultimately she just needs a man who will accept that. To a point everything is meaningless unless the other person will accept you, but there’s no real emotional gamble in Broken English. True, Nora needs to drop her profitable but dead end job as Miss Fix It in a swanky hotel, but as far as her real problem goes it’s so obvious she’s doing the right thing in pursuing the relationship with Julien because he’s far too suitable.

Parker Posey may never quite be Best in Show, but her work in later films such as Personal Velocity, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, Fay Grim, and especially Broken English show she only gets better with age. Her vulnerable and anxious performance is by far the biggest asset of Cassavetes wandering, episodic movie. Drinking to give herself enough confidence, or more accurately uninhibit herself enough to make yet another attempt at a relationship, she loses due to a combination of the pressing urgency of still not having a husband in her mid 30’s, at least half of which is in her head, with defeatism. She always dives in too quickly, not only setting herself up for yet another failure but also increasing the disappointment of it. Posey underplays more than in her earlier roles, making her anguish and insecurities more believable. She’s able to convey points such as her vaunted independence just being the fear of breaking her unsatisfying routine. Posey gives a very real, award worthy performance but Broken English plays too safe and thus isn’t always up to her standard, or even that of Rowlands who has a small role as her pressuring judgmental mother. Still, it’s a good start.



* Copyright 2007 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *