I’ve been wanting to talk to director Zoe Cassevetes since last January, which was when I saw Broken English, her first film. To my surprise I quite liked it, despite it being a kind of romantic comedy, which I tend to hate as a rule. It’s about a 30ish Manhattan hotel worker named Nora (Parker Posey) looking for the right dude and mostly getting hurt, and then finally getting lucky…sort of. The kind of luck that comes with interesting complications.

Broken English director-writer Zoe Cassevetes — Thursday, 6.7.07, 4:25 pm

I did one of those quickie-sit-downs with Cassevetes Thursday afternoon at the Four Seasons hotel. She’s John Cassevetes‘ daughter, all right — whip-smart, unpretentious, compulsively honest. Posey dropped by for a minute or two early on, wearing a killer black blouse. They were both going to attend an invitational screening of Broken English at the Aero in Santa Monica.
I liked Broken English because it’s often funny but also because it doesn’t seem to be trying to be that as much as a natural settling into a sardonic and sometimes bitterly truthful vein. It’s largely about what a slog it is out there for no-longer-young women who haven’t yet found the right match, or at least a relationship offering a possibility of something fairly good happening. It’s not Rules of the Game or A Man and a Woman, but there are very few times when Broken English merely goes for “cute” or “affecting.”
For what it is and as far as it goes, Broken English (Magnolia, 6.22) is unusually bright and observant, and I swear it contains the most affecting and emotionally open performance of Parker Posey‘s 38-year life. She may seem at times to be doing the same sort of Parker-attitude thing here that she’s done in many films before, but this time there’s a bit more sadness, a deeper crack in her voice, a greater willingness to show her buried child.
All along, her performance works hand-in-hand with Cassevetes’ sassy, tip-top script.
The film gets rolling and digs in when Nora meets Julian (Melvil Poupaud), a 30ish Parisian who seems soulful and straight enough. The chemistry seems right, but then he takes off. Should Nora let it go and move on, or fly to Paris and see what happens next?
In the hands of another director and with a lesser actress as Nora, a vehicle like Broken English might’ve been a little tough to get through. I mean, I usually hate stuff like this. But this one touches bottom, and is sharp and deft and even penetrating at times. I just wish that more romantic comedies were on this level. This isn’t to say it’s great or drop-dead profound, but it’s way beyond your typical puerile, over-baked, too-broad romantic comedy
Justin Theroux, playing a generic egoistic actor with a mohawk, is hilarious. He delivers his lines with just the right jaded aroma, never too broad or buffoony. Drea de Mateo, Gena Rowlands and Peter Bogdanovich also give nicely-honed supporting performances.