If you’re making a comedy about a neurotic New Yorker who’s unlucky in love, you can’t do much better than Parker Posey for the lead. And if, as in “Broken English,” even Posey’s comedic gifts can’t make the film any better than so-so, then friend, your movie needs help.
This is the feature debut of writer-director Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands. She has filmmaking in her blood, in other words — low-budget, do-it-yourself, independent filmmaking. “Broken English” has that kind of vibe, and it’s smooth sailing for about the first half, before it gets a little too navel-gazey and philosophizey.
Posey plays Nora Wilder, a hotel guest-services manager who tends to choose the wrong guy (e.g., the bad-boy actor staying at the hotel, whom she sleeps with). She spends most of her free time with her best friend, Audrey (Drea de Matteo), whose “perfect marriage” of five years is slowly dissolving. The gals gab, complain, drink, and commiserate like old pros.
Then Nora meets a French fellow named Julian (Melvil Poupaud). He is sensitive, charming, and romantic. He is everything a girl could want. He is also going back to France in a couple days. Same merde, different day, right?
The love story between Nora and Julian is rather sweet, with him accepting all her neuroses and her learning to let her guard down. Cassavetes’ intelligent, cosmopolitan screenplay has some real flavor to it, and Posey’s performance is (of course) expertly calibrated to achieve maximum funny.
Then things get a bit weird. There’s a whirlwind trip to Paris, a bizarre tangent involving the delivery of strange packages to French people, and much introspection and self-actualization. It feels mopey, not to mention ripped off from “Before Sunset.” (Especially disheartening: The people most likely to watch “Broken English” are the people most likely to have also watched “Before Sunset.”)
So it’s only an average film, but that first half is a pip, and the whole thing is refreshingly simple and good-natured. I can give it a lukewarm recommendation, the sort of movie whose admirable qualities — the humor, the gentle warm-heartedness — juuuust outweigh the less admirable ones.
B- (1 hr., 32 min.; )