Thursday, January 10, 2008

Movie Log: Broken English

I'm not entirely sure how Broken English got to the top of my Netflix queue, but it did, and we watched it on New Year's Eve.

And then I didn't bother to write about it for nearly two weeks, so the memory is a bit fuzzy. Parker Posey is our lead, a youngish New Yorker named Nora who works as the head of the keeping-rich-assholes-happy department of a boutique hotel. She is Not Happy With Her Life, so we get lots of shots of her drinking. (and drinking, and drinking. I've seen some people try to argue that she's not an alcoholic, but that dog won't hunt.) She's also clingy and unlucky in love, desperate for A Man.

I'm wondering now if the director, Zoe Cassavetes, was a little too specific and "indy" in telling this story -- Posey's character might have worked better if she felt more like an Everywoman, like the representative of a generation. (She doesn't; she's utterly individual, which makes Broken English her story rather than something universal. That's not good or bad, I'll add; but it is.)

Back to the plot: Posey has a helpful friend (Audrey, played by Drea de Matteo), married for a few years and starting to feel that all of the early excitement is gone. She also has an not-quite-as-helpful mother (played by Gena Rowlands). They do their bit to cheer Nora up, and convince her that Being In A Relationship is not necessarily the sole end of life. Nora pretends to listen, but it doesn't really touch her.

In a more Hollywood movie, we'd establish Posey's character a bit, and then go through a "hilarious" montage of her bad dates. Broken English doesn't quite do that, though it does have a few scenes, in quick succession, of Posey dealing badly with various men (potential mates or not). And I was left with the feeling that the standard montage might be a cliche, but it got to be a cliche because its an efficient vehicle for delivering both a mood and a message. Broken English wants essentially the same message and a slightly different mood, but isn't able to create either as quickly and cleanly as the tacky Hollywood product would have.

Eventually, Nora does meet a decent guy, or what the movie wants to be a nice guy. (I found him more than a little stalker-ish: he doesn't leave her side for more than twenty-four hours, doesn't talk much, keeps trying to get physical, and is never seen to tell her his name.) This is a Frenchman named Julien (Melvin Poupaud), and here's an example of where Broken English's complete freedom from cliches is very helpful. In any other movie, a pretty young New York girl meeting a mysterious Frenchman would be the purest schlock, but, here, it's just about these two people, and it works.

The movie meanders on from there -- it's not a plotty film, really. Unfortunately, it's not a deep movie of characterization, either; it hovers outside its characters -- even Nora -- and doesn't let us get into their heads. Nora changes, I guess, or she's said to change, but she still looks to me like the same clingy, alcoholic wreck she was at the beginning. I didn't find the ending entirely convincing, but then I think I had different images of Nora and Julien than the movie wanted me to have. That may be partly my fault, and partly the movie's fault, I guess.

For a small, independent movie about New Yorkers, Broken English is remarkably free of self-indulgence; it does see these people from outside, but it sees them clearly and distinctly. It's not a great movie, but it's a decent one, which is better than you can get a lot of the time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's not a great movie, but it's a decent one, which is better than you can get a lot of the time.

I saw it on the festival circuit, where it was very refreshing.

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