BROKEN ENGLISH
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
actor-director John Cassavetes and his
wife/muse Gena Rowlands would carve careers
in the motion picture industry. Like another
scion of the industry, Sophia Coppola, Zoe
Cassavetes honed her skills as a filmmaker
directing music videos, commercials, short films
and TV projects. For her feature debut as
director and writer,
BROKEN ENGLISH, she has
fashioned a semi-autobiographical movie about
a thirty-something woman who finds love in an
unexpected place.

Instead of writing a traditional romantic
comedy, though, Cassavetes has tackled a
storyline that owes much to her father's work --
a slice of life portrait complete equal doses of
the humor and pathos. Parker Posey stars as
Nora Wilder, a woman growing disenchanted
with her single life and her job in guest
relations at a trendy boutique hotel in
Manhattan. Nora measures herself against her
best friend Audrey (Drea de Matteo), a woman
who seems to have it all -- a great husband
(Tim Guinee), wealth, and social status, yet who
is monstrously unhappy. It doesn't help that
Nora's mom (Gena Rowlands) pressures her
about settling down and giving her grandchildren.

BROKEN ENGLISH tracks Nora over the course
of a few months as she engages in a few dating
mishaps, including an encounter with a hotel
guest, up-and-coming actor Nick Gable (Justin
Theroux in one of the film's most realized
performances) who treats the pursuit of Nora as
an acting exercise, and a disastrous blind date
with a family friend (Josh Hamilton, also quite
good) who is still smarting over a recent
breakup. Just as Nora is about to give up
completely, she encounters Julien (Melvin
Poupaud) at a party thrown by a co-worker.

Initially indifferent to Julien and his attentions,
Nora soon becomes intrigued. Julien sees her
home and stays the night, but sleeps on a chair.
Gradually she succumbs to his charms and they
spend several days together. With work
commitments forcing him back to France, Julien
invites Nora to come with him, but she
reluctantly refuses -- and later regrets her
decision.

At this point, the movie shifts gears a bit and
Nora eventually decides to head to Paris to track
down Julien, intent on discovering if he is
indeed the "one." Audrey arranges for them to
serve as couriers and they are both off for
adventures in France. The trip allows Nora the
opportunity to do some soul searching and reach
a few conclusions.

BROKEN ENGLISH is an intriguing if not wholly
successful feature. There's an awful lot in the
movie that feels familiar and Cassavetes,
despite her best efforts to inject something new
into the genre, lacks the experience that might
have elevated this beyond the mundane. Posey
does a nice job in the lead role, but she doesn't
really share any chemistry with Poupaud (who
was so magnetic in
TIME TO LEAVE). Indeed,
Poupaud falls victim to the unfortunate trend
that many European performers do: when he
acts in English something is definitely lost in
the translation. Together there is no heat or
spark, so the audience's lacks rooting value for
the couple to be together.

The large supporting cast is adequate, with
Theroux and Hamilton scoring in their brief
scenes. De Matteo does well with Audrey, but I
could not get past the feeling that these women
really weren't the close friends the script
claimed. Sadly, Gena Rowlands was wasted in
her role as Nora's harridan of a mother.

BROKEN ENGLISH isn't a complete washout
and Cassavetes does show potential. I had the
feeling that like her heroine, she was struggling
to find her own voice. Maybe with future
projects she will.


Rating:                C+
MPAA Rating:     PG-13 for some sexual
                    content, brief drug use
                    and language
Running time:     96 mins.


   Viewed at Magno Review One
L to R: Parker Posey as Nora Wilder and
Melvil Poupaud as Julien
in
BROKEN ENGLISH
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.