Review: Broken English (2007)

This low-key romance directed and written by Zoe Cassavetes stars the lovely Parker Posey alongside a charming Melvil Poupaud. This movie is sometimes marketed as a comedy, but it really is more than that. In my opinion Broken English is a portrait of a woman caught up in her mid-thirties life crisis, when a chance encounter with a tempting stranger makes her reconsider her attitude towards life and love.

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The premise for the plot sounds stereotypical and almost ridiculous; an American woman chases after her French lover, who she has just met a few days ago, by booking a last minute trip to Paris with her best gal pal. Her fantasy is squashed when she loses his phone number, but La Ville-Lumière and the screenwriter’s pen allow for a romantic miracle. Every time I watch a film I keep in mind that the images we see on the screen have gone through the camera’s lens, so they can never be a true representation of real life, only a reflection, and a distorted one at that. Even the best documentary takes some artistic liberty and careful use of editing to portray a certain angle. With this in mind, I didn’t find it over-the-top that Nora would decide to do a surprise trip to look for Julien, in fact, I was rooting for her. Who hasn’t turned down a possibly life changing decision and then regretted it later? The set up for Nora’s leap of faith also added credibility to the plot. Right before the setting turns to the streets of Paris, Nora has a heart-to-heart with her best friend Audrey, played by the hilarious Drea de Matteo.  Audrey asks her why she didn’t go with Julien initially and her response is one that I could empathize with: “I’m a coward.” This is the turning point in her character; the key dramatic element where she realizes that she needs to take that chance or regret it for a long time to come.

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I was drawn to Posey’s portrayal of the disheartened Nora. She had just the right amount of wit and discouragement while going from one bad date to the other and envying her best friend Audrey’s seemingly perfect marriage. The moment that sold me was after Nora had been introduced to Julien and they had exchanged a few words, she lets out a sigh before the cut to the next scene. I knew instantly what she felt without a doubt: here we gone again! That all to familiar feeling that you are having your pants charmed off by another sweet talking guy who will forget you in a week, while you weep over a tub of ice cream. However, there is something about Julien. Poupaud plays the role perfectly for this film. He is not an exaggeration, but rather an accurate as can be representation of that friendly stranger we could all meet at the next party we attend. Nora and Julien don’t go on a wild adventure through Manhattan as could be expected from a big-budget romance. Cassavetes gives her characters a softer landing to let viewers know that this is a believable love story that maybe happened to her or a friend, and through this she cements Julien’s character as a “different” kind of guy. The kind worth flying over the Atlantic for.

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Had Nora been the heroin and jetted off with the charming Frenchman initially, only to have her heart broken after a wild affair, would have been pure Hollywood melodrama. Instead, Broken English allows us to reflect on our own choices and past heartbreaks. The ending might not please viewers accustomed to a feeling of closure, but that’s not the point of this movie. The significance is in Nora’s journey and what happens afterwards is up to her to live and us to imagine. The most important point to take home is that she took that risk knowing that it might not work out, just as her previous attempts at love had not. If I had to guess, I could say that this movie might have an autobiographical aspect to it, which adds enormously to the appeal.

Bottom Line

I can fully recommend this movie to those looking for something light to watch on a rainy afternoon. It’ll give you that warm feeling inside, but also have you think about that time you let someone go and now their memory lives in the back corner of your mind.

Cast includes Parker Posey, Melvil Poupaud, Drea de Matteo, Tim Guine, and Justin Theroux
Directed by Zoe Cassavetes

All images copyright Magnolia Pictures.

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