Broken English (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Nora (Parker Posey) imagined that by the time she was thirty, she would be married, have kids, and flourishing in a career she wanted. Now that she is several years past thirty, Nora has grown weary and accustomed to the routine. Her friends and family think she does not go out enough to meet new people yet she complains about how everyone else is in a relationship. After two promising yet ultimately unfulfilling dates, Nora meets a guy at a co-worker’s party. His name is Julien (Melvil Poupaud) and he is from Paris. Initially, the Manhattanite is slightly put off by how intense he was. Slowly, however, she is won over. Will what they have last?
Written and directed by Zoe R. Cassavetes, “Broken English” is a romantic comedy that manages to entertain despite the fact that it is uncommon for the protagonist to get exactly what she wants. Part of the reason why it is so watchable is because of its honesty. Like life, nothing that is of value comes too easily. There is always a trade-off. Take a look at the men in Nora’s life: Although what they share may appear to work on the surface, upon closer examination, she discovers that there is always a catch. The question is whether the drawbacks are worth the investment.
For a character who whines a lot, Nora remains to be someone worth rooting for. Credit to the casting director for choosing Posey to play the miserable subject because she has a way of coming off very needy and annoying yet balancing such qualities with sarcasm and sense of humor. We get the impression that she knows she is not at her best—and that it is likely that everyone else is tired of her complaining—but it is better than internalizing unhappiness and eventually attempting to overdose on pills. If the lead character had been played with a one-dimensional performer, the result would have been catastrophic.
There is chemistry between Posey and Poupaud. From the moment the characters they play meet at the party, we are convinced that the two will get together. What I did not expect was in how their friendship, relationship, or whatever is that they have, is going to be challenged. Like the other men in her life, Julien is not perfect. But neither is Nora. I liked that the screenplay is able to create sudden shifts in tone which allow us to wonder whether Julien will remain attracted to Nora.
There is also love in terms of friendship. Audrey (Drea de Matteo), Nora’s best friend, gets a subplot about being an unhappy wife which is not completely effective because it is rather undercooked, but she and Nora share a few nice scenes. For instance, Audrey is not afraid to tell her friend when the self-pity has reached an unhealthy point or whether an idea is crazy or just plain stupid. In a way, Audrey is the audience’s conduit. Their relationship is sweet, with unacknowledged complications, funny, and genuine. I kept waiting for their relationship to devolve into someone sitcom-like duo but the material never makes that mistake.
I read a review claiming that there is nothing particularly funny about the film because the character is so sad, so desperate, verging on depression. I disagree. I was amused and entertained by “Broken English” because the writer-director is not blind to small ironies. Every so often it requires the audience to look closely at a situation and what the character expects out of it. When it works out, we feel glad for our protagonist. But it is far more interesting when it doesn’t. We anticipate her reaction. We feel her humiliation. Then we watch how she tries to pick herself up.