Written by Caballero Oscuro
Broken English is the feature film debut from a writer/director with a familiar name: Zoe Cassavetes. Yes, she’s part of the famous Cassavetes clan, daughter of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, sister of director/actor Nick, and she’s racked up an impressive list of career accomplishments of her own but has never helmed a full-length feature until now. She chose to partially base her debut film on her own life experiences, resulting in some welcome realism and depth to her characters. She was also blessed with shrewd casting by filling the starring role with undisputed indie-film queen, Parker Posey.
For most viewers, the sole reason to see this new film is the presence of Posey. She carries the film firmly on her shoulders and puts in another strong performance to add to her impressive repertoire. As opposed to her financially-motivated and somewhat bizarre turn in last year’s Superman Returns, this is clearly a project that Posey cares about and values as art over commerce. It’s also a rare opportunity to see Posey in a romantic vehicle, albeit one charged with an overarching theme of introspection.
Posey plays a 30-something Manhattan girl named Nora with dismal success in the romance department and an unfulfilling career to match. She’s at the point in her life where people are questioning her inability to land a sustainable romantic relationship and she’s questioning her own value as a person. She wonders how she can value herself when she can’t find anyone else who seems to value her. Although she’s reached a rather mature point of her life, she’s wracked with insecurities and doubt about her future, finding herself on a voyage of discovery to, well, find herself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with her, but in her eyes there’s not much right either. She’s constantly reminded of her advancing age and diminishing prospects by her mother (Gena Rowlands), and envies the seemingly perfect marriage of her best friend (Drea de Matteo).
After a fling with a less-than-virtuous Hollywood playboy (Justin Theroux), Nora encounters a somewhat sketchy French rogue named Julien (Melvin Poupaud) at a party. He’s a bit flighty and seemingly untrustworthy, but also soulful and extremely interested in Nora, immediately cajoling a night out with her in spite of her wishes to leave the party alone. Since Nora has been burned by Romeos so many times before, and he doesn’t seem like the most grounded of individuals, she’s wary of his slick and almost immediate professions of adoration, but eventually allows herself to be charmed by his attention. His imminent return to France doesn’t help Nora’s trust issues, and even when he asks her to leave her life behind and travel with him she finds herself frozen in her original existence, unable to embrace the sudden sea change presented to her. As the film enters its final stretch, she has to decide if she can learn to love herself in time to allow herself to be loved by another, and find out if Julien’s love is real.
Cassavetes doesn’t offer much originality in the basic plot, but gets considerable mileage out of its nuances. It’s a fairly simple love story at its core, adorned with Nora’s personal soul-searching that mostly rings true and holds interest rather than descending into self-pathos. Cassavetes drew from her own experiences as a single 30-something, and it’s particularly intriguing to imagine just how much of her real mom Gena Rowland’s part as Nora’s mom was developed from their own interactions. There are some structure problems, mostly due to an ending that feels like a bit of a cop-out after the self-discovery theme, as well as a detour overseas that runs overlong and adds little to the film other than showing off pretty landmarks, but judged as a whole it’s a solid, entertaining effort from Cassavetes and a strong addition to her family’s legacy.