The realization struck me hard about halfway through Broken English: Parker Posey isn't Party Girl anymore. She hasn't been Party Girl for years, of course, and the roles she's taken have evolved steadily from neurotic 20-somethings to neurotic 30-somethings. But in Broken English, I saw for the first time that Posey and her characters are adults now — a little less hopeful, a little more world-weary, a lot more afraid of the idea that this could be the best life gets.
Posey plays Nora Wilder, a chronically single 30-something who once dreamed of an art career but ended up as the guest relations director at a boutique hotel. In the name of "putting herself out there," she launches into a series of bad dates — one with a famous actor who later tells a Hollywood news program he's dating his costar; another with a sad sack of a man who can't get over his ex. Then, at an almost laughably bad party thrown by a coworker, Nora meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud), who's sweet, attentive, romantic — and about to return to Paris. Julien encourages Nora to run away to Paris with him, and she's too practical (or too self-sabotaging, or too scared) to go. But at the urging of a friend, she ultimately takes off for the romantic city, in search of a fantasy of love. That's just the skeleton, so to hear more of what I thought,
Broken English is beautiful to look at. Director Zoe Cassavetes — daughter of film legend John, directing her first feature here — has given the film a gauzy, almost pastel look reminiscent of Lost in Translation. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Posey's covetable wardrobe.
Cassavetes and Posey manage to make a familiar story of screwed-up singledom feel relatively fresh, but the director's inexperience is obvious in places. A few subplots (the screwed-up marriage of Nora's best friend, Audrey, as well as the confusing courier mission that gets Audrey and Nora to Paris eventually) slide in and out of relevance, as if Cassavetes couldn't quite decide how important those stories were to Nora's journey. And the movie seemed to both drag on for too long and end too soon; the buildup to the final moments felt overly drawn out, while the ending itself was too abrupt.
But in the end, this is Nora's story. She's not quite an everywoman in Posey's hands; rather, she's that lovable mess of a friend we all know and love. She's too romantic, then too practical, then too regretful to do much of anything. It's a performance that is strong, nuanced and — above all — grown up.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures