Move over Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones. It's Parker Posey's turn to look for love in all the wrong places.
Until I was 27, I was--almost without exception--single. I would go to weddings stag. I would lug a month's worth of groceries up all the flights to my third-floor walk-up myself. I would go out with guys that I hoped were right, but weren’t. Or guys that could have been right, but the timing was off. Or guys that probably were right--just for someone other than me. And all the while I was always conscious of feeling so terribly, hopelessly, permanently alone.
This weekend's Broken English, an indie romantic dramedy, captures the reality of that experience better than virtually any movie I have ever seen. Written and directed by Zoe Cassavetes(daughter of independent film pioneer John Cassavetes), Broken English stars a surprisingly un-quirkified Parker Posey as Nora Wilder, a thirty-something single woman in New York. She's pretty and nice and has a decent job, but she just hasn't been able to find the man. Of course, the fact that her friends are all married and her parents are on her back about taking the plunge herself just exacerbates the situation.
Nora goes on dates with different men, filled with hope at each new possibility. But as we all know, getting a relationship off the ground isn't as easy as it may seem in an Ashley Judd movie, and Nora gets increasingly jaded and desperate. When she meets a goofy, younger Frenchman named Julien (Melvil Poupaud), it's hard to tell if Mr. Right has finally come along.
By virtue of the film's subject matter, Broken English can't help but draw comparison to Sex and the City and Bridget Jones's Diary. And that's fine by me--I absolutely love both of them and the comparisons are valid. However, leaving things at that would be a grave mistake. The thing is, Sex and the City and Bridget Jones's Diary are both excellently done comedies about the predicament of the sassy thirty-something singleton on the hunt for love in the big city. But that's just it--their primary tone is comedic. And as such, as much as you may want to identify with the characters, there is an (albeit delightful) resilience and buoyancy about the stories that always keeps things light and optimistic. The pleasure in them is in getting to watch those characters with whom you so strongly identify live out your fantasy happy ending without much risk--even if you can't do that yourself.
With its decidedly less brassy tone, Broken English, on the other hand, is much more about the reality of that predicament. Nora is so real that seeing how badly she wants someone to be with echoes those feelings we have all had ourselves, instead of providing a vacation from them. Each first date gone awry, each false start becomes all the more heartbreaking because of how true to life it seems.
Usually exploited for her quirk factor, Parker Posey is a surprisingly lovely choice for the role and it is really refreshing to get see her carry a movie in a straight-up dramatic lead. But even more surprising is French actor Melvil Poupaud (Le Divorce) as Nora's main love interest. His mixture of bravado and vulnerability proves remarkably touching, and the way he looks at Nora absolutely cuts you to the core.
I don't mean to give the impression that Broken English is without fault. Cassavetes makes a few odd choices--omitting what should have been pivotal scenes and glossing them over with a few lines of explication, for example. And there's the introduction of several different, rather random "sage" figures (isn't just one enough?), as well as a bit of meandering plot as the film heads into its third act. But those problems simply are nothing in comparison to the emotional reality of the film.
Broken English surprised me all around: I didn't expect to be particularly impressed with it, and instead it turns out to be not only one of my favorite films I've see this year, but it will probably earn a spot in the all-time annals for me.
It's certainly not a movie for everyone, that's for sure. But you also don't have to be the last girl left standing in a biological-clock version of musical chairs to get it, either. For those--women and men--who have ever felt keenly alone, I think you will find that Broken English will make you feel understood in a way that rarely happens.