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Parker Posey Update July 6, 2007
"Broken English " is a conventional New
York-lonely hearts story made watchable by one
element and one element only: Parker Posey.
She plays Nora Wilder , a tightly-wound
Manhattanite panicking as she sees her youth
slipping away, and where any other actress
would push the role's poor-me aspects, Posey
doesn't know how to ask an audience for pity.
She gives Nora's wallowing an ugly edge that's
right and real and that the movie finally
scampers away from in a panic of its own.
The writer-director is Zoe Cassavetes , the
daughter of indie-film godhead John
Cassavetes, making her feature film debut. Not
to be cruel, but if Cassavetes Sr.'s movies were
the raw beatnik prose of their day, "Broken
English" is chick lit. Still, the film's a good
summer read, with an honesty about romantic
disenchantments in the big city that feels
And, truth to tell, there are a lot of Nora Wilders
out there: brittle, hip, well-educated (she's a
Sarah Lawrence grad), and stalled in careers
that call on 10 percent of their abilities. Nora's
the guest-services manager for a posh
downtown hotel, catering to the whims of rock
stars and celebutantes. It's the sort of job that
looks fun on paper, but it means she takes care
of everyone's laundry but her own.
Nora's mother (Gena Rowlands , acting legend
and the director's own mom) frets about her
daughter's singleton status while step dad
(Peter Bogdanovich ) offers useless advice.
Best pal Audrey (Drea de Matteo , exchanging
her "Sopranos" honk for a Manhattan trill) is in a
stew over her own newlywed problems. Nora
has dates and flings, but they're disasters that
start well at Film Forum revival screenings and
go downhill from there.
The sharpest moments in "Broken English"
concern a preening movie star who holes up at
the hotel and woos her out of boredom and
insecurity. Seducing smart women is what he
does for acting practice, and Justin Theroux
("Mulholland Dr., " "Six Feet Under ") plays him
with a dim-bulb sincerity (and a hideous
Mohawk) that works its charm on both Nora and
These scenes feel like "Sex in the City " with a
morning-after pall, and they take up the movie's
first half. Then, out of nowhere (a party,
actually), appears Julien (Melvil Poupaud ). He's
adorable, thin, younger. He's French. And he
worships Nora without reserve, so much so that
she has to pinch herself.
The movie should have done the same. The
back half of "Broken English" is cute but
spineless, as Nora wrestles with the question of
whether she should open her heart and commit
to Julien. Since he's the perfect man (and since
Poupaud plays him with scruffy, caring charm),
her dithering quickly gets on your nerves.
How much more interesting if the film had
addressed the notion of compromise, of whether
accepting an imperfect someone is better than
holding out for an ideal no one. Instead,
"Broken English" sends Nora to Paris -- or to
movie-Paris, which is even better than the real
thing -- and pretends to find answers in the
baguettes and the boulevards. And maybe
they're there, if you can afford the airfares.
Posey almost gets you to believe this
women's-magazine nonsense. Nearing 40, she's
deepening her range now, finding new strains of
narcissism and vulnerability to offset the
arrogance of her youth. She really is starting to
look like the Katharine Hepburn of her
generation, with the crucial difference that
Hepburn worked in mainstream movies because
that's all there was.
By contrast, modern Hollywood is happy to
shunt Posey into indie films where her angles
and ironies can't hurt the masses. She's the
movie star who might have been, and she still
might be if anyone in the industry had the nerve.