Films about anxious single women longing for a mate are a dime a dozen. Which is why Broken English, starring Parker Posey, is such a refreshing surprise for the novel way it covers well-trod ground.
A Sarah Lawrence grad with an enviable job at a hip Manhattan boutique hotel, Nora (Posey) is pretty, adored by friends and family, and effortlessly cool. But she also needs a glass or two of wine to get to sleep and imagines love at the end of a one-night stand.
And beneath Nora's relentless quest for someone to love, there is something more poignant: the implication that Nora is trying to find a man like the father she misses and longs for, the one who died when she was still a girl.
Written and directed by Zoe Cassavetes (daughter of maverick indie director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands), Broken English is clearly rooted in Zoe Cassavetes' personal experience. Her father also died when she was 19. Zoe Cassavetes is not unlike late-bloomer Nora (who still doesn't know what she wants out of life) in making her directorial debut at age 37. It's a far later coming-out than her precocious daughter-of-director friend, Sofia Coppola, who made her debut at age 28 with The Virgin Suicides. As a result, the film goes a little deeper and feels more personal and honest than the usual husband-hungry chick flick.
Though autobiographical in part, Cassavetes' film also taps into something more universal: the lot of restless, educated-but-dissatisfied city women who long for something magical in their lives, but find it slipping away.
Like Jennifer Aniston's similarly listless single girl lost amid married couples in Nicole Holofcener's Friends With Money, Nora joins a sorority of layered, realistically anxious indie heroines searching as much as the indie boys for something solid in life.
After a particularly ugly romantic disappointment with an actor (Justin Theroux), Nora tries to hold back her tears as she tells her mother, "I think I must be doing something horribly wrong. But I don't know what."
The kind of romantic panic Nora describes – "so desperate to find someone to love" – isn't what so often comes across in Bridget Jones-style singleton comedies that just scratch the surface of female anxiety and longing. Nora isn't some man-crazy loon, but a woman getting older, watching all her friends couple up, and filled with loneliness and a need for companionship. Without rules or some guide to navigating the cutthroat Manhattan dating scene, this shy and romantic woman keeps getting burned. Her mother (played by the always-intoxicatingly earthy Rowlands) is sympathetic; in today's world there are just too many choices and a lot of confusion when it comes to courtship.
Played by another actress, Nora might not be as heartbreaking. But Posey invests this character with something so real and solid you feel the longing and loneliness of Nora's quest for love. It's there in the nervous, anxious look she gets when a man asks her about working for six years at a job she never really wanted. It's there in her sudden clammy panic attack when Nora finally meets a man who seems to care about her: French film technician Julien (Melvil Poupaud). Memorable in Francois Ozon's Time to Leave, about a man coming to terms with dying, Poupaud brings an affecting gravity to his role as Nora's boyfriend. Not simply a man to be "caught" in Nora's desperate clutches, he is a fully realized character in his own right, also marked deeply by the loss of a parent. Julien responds to Nora's loneliness in a powerful way that makes their relationship a marked contrast to the superficial hookups we imagine in Nora's past.
Posey has long been the go-to girl for loopy, borderline-demented characters. Though she's flirted with serious subject matter in Personal Velocity and Fay Grim, Posey hasn't yet plumbed the depths she so obviously is capable of. This satisfying indie gem makes you long for even more "dramatic" Posey and to see another side of this already-winning actress's personality.
Interview has a less commonplace setup, perhaps, but nevertheless is a conceptual dead end. Director/actor Steve Buscemi's film begins with a novel idea first treated in Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh's original version (the director was murdered by an Islamic extremist in 2004).
A pompous magazine reporter, Pierre (Buscemi), used to covering politics finds himself in the unwanted position of having to write a feature story about Katya, a young TV and horror-movie actress (Sienna Miller).
The interview gets off to a terrible start, with Pierre's disdain for Katya's career coming through loud and clear, and her young-Hollywood stove-pipe jeans, cell phone and sexual bravado hardly countering the stereotype. The pair bicker during their restaurant interview, then call it quits. But after a taxi accident outside the restaurant, Pierre ends up in Katya's loft and the real, incredibly claustrophobic psychodrama begins.
Though director Buscemi appears anxious to upend our expectations about the frivolity of Katya's life versus the "seriousness" of Pierre's, his film is a relatively wan and unconvincing (not to mention calculated) bit of stereotype-debunking. Katya turns out to have more depth and intelligence, and Pierre less, than we first expect. But Pierre and Katya are fairly irritating, self-involved people, and Katya's defying expectations don't feel like much of a touché (especially considering how powerfully journalistic "integrity" has already slipped in our society). Though the story's arc makes hay with our expectations, it doesn't end with any deeper or clearer understanding of who these people are and why they behave as they do. Interview feels like a writer's – and director's – clever but vapid construct. And the stagy, contrived when-strangers-meet scenario feels more Actor's Studio than anything approximating real life.
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