Kim Voynar Reviews “Broken English” at Sundance 07

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Writer/Director Zoe Cassavetes’s debuts at Sundance with Broken English, her first feature. Cinematical.com‘s Kim Voynar comments the film feels so honest because Cassavetes and star, Parker Posey, call on their own experiences in creating character.”

There’s just something about being a single woman in your 30s that seems to be an endlessly fascinating subject for independent film. Writer/director Zoe Cassavetes, making her directorial debut here, doesn’t exactly explore uncovered ground in her film Broken English, and yet, she somehow manages to put such a charming face on the subject matter that we don’t really care. Parker Posey plays Nora, who, in her 30s, finds that nothing in her life has gone how she once thought it would. She majored in Fine Arts, thinking she would work in the art world; instead she works in a boutique hotel in a dismal and depressing little office as the manager of guest relations, kissing the backsides — and, occasionally, the frontsides — of VIPs to keep them happy. She thought she’d be married to a great guy and settled down with a family; instead, she hangs out with her married friends, and relentlessly dodges Glen, an annoying co-worker who clearly has a major crush on her.

Nora’s best friend, Audrey (Drea de Matteo) is married to Nora’s friend Mark, a director. Nora introduced them, and, of course, Nora’s mom (Gena Rowlands, the director’s mother) thinks Nora should have married Mark herself. Audrey and Mark have the perfect marriage, except for the minor point that Audrey is perfectly miserable. She hasn’t, she confesses to Nora one night, gone to sleep without a drink or a sleeping pill in so long she can’t remember. Nora laughs — she hasn’t either — and this would all be a little too cutesy and self-absorbed if it didn’t resonate with such stinging truth. The packed press screening audience got a chuckle out of that bit, in that sort of “yeah, I know what you mean” way. Nora, like many of us, coasts along on the ruts in her life, going to a job she doesn’t really like just because, well, that’s the thing you do, right? She dresses up and gets out occasionally, but her efforts are both half-hearted and sadly self-conscious.

When Audrey and Mark go out of town for a holiday weekend, Glen invites her to a party at his place (and invites her, and invites her, in that kind of creepy semi-stalker-guy way some guys have when they just don’t get the signal that the other party has no interest). On the spur of the moment, though, Nora decides to show up at Glen’s bash. She stays just long enough to be polite, but just as she’s leaving she meets Glen’s friend Julian (French actor Melvil Poupard), a handsome, debonair Frenchman who coaxes her to stay and have just one drink. Julian and Nora spend some magical days together, but then he has to return to France. He wants Nora to come with him, but she can’t — or won’t. Will Nora stick it out in New York City and muddle through her life, hoping love will fall in her lap? Or will she take the biggest chance of her life?

In the hands of a lesser actress, this could have been a pretty average movie, but Posey puts Nora out there as she is, a mirror to every person in the audience who’s every wanted to be loved and not found it, or found it, just maybe, only to let it walk away. It’s a rather typical Posey role, and yet somehow I never tire of seeing her in them. Cassavetes is herself 36, and Posey 38, and you have to think that part of why this film feels so honest in so many of its moments is that both of them are calling on their own experiences in creating Nora as a character. The film does have one glaringly weak and predictable moment near the end (I think I heard the collective sound of a room full of critics’ eyes rolling), which was unfortunate given the rest of the film, but not enough to impact its overall likability. Originally published at Cinematical.com

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).