Before I go on to trash this film—which actually I’m not going to quite do—in all fairness I need to first admit a prejudice. And that is that I don’t like most romantic movies. Not that I have anything against romance—I can be as romantic as the next guy, and in fact I like to think even more so. But I believe that the vast majority of romantic films that Hollywood churns out every year, like a mock-maple-syrup corporation rushing to fill its annual quota, are just lousy films from an artistic point of view. Clichéd plots, stock characters, unrealistic relationships usually based on superficial connections, and idiotic problems solved too easily.
That said, there are some exceptions; there indeed are a few romantic movies that I really do love. Two of those exceptions are Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” (1995), and its sequel, “Before Sunset” (2004). The first tells the story of an American man who meets a French woman on a train traveling across Europe. They hit it off so well that they spontaneously decide to get off in Vienna and spent the evening enjoying each other’s company in that romantic city before they must go their separate ways the next morning. Its sequel reunites the pair ten years later, in Paris, where they become reacquainted, reminisce about their wonderful night together in Vienna, and try for a second chance at love. I love these two movies not only because they have such interesting characters who discuss fascinating subjects, but the films don’t follow any of the standard Hollywood romantic clichés. It’s refreshing to fall in love with these characters in the romantic settings of these two European cities.
Now what does all this have to do with “Broken English” which was playing in some theatres only last week and has now just been released on DVD? Well, for one, this movie, which is the feature film debut of Zoe Cassavetes (daughter of director John Cassavetes and actor Gena Rowlands), reminds me too much of Linklater’s films since it borrows heavily from them for parts of its plot.
The story concerns itself with Nora Wilder (Parker Posey), a late-30s, single New Yorker who’s really feeling the pressure to settle down. Not only is her biological clock ticking, but she’s jealous of her friend Audrey’s (Drea de Matteo) marriage even though it’s falling apart, plus she’s under a lot of pressure from her mother (Cassavetes’ real mother, Gena Rowlands). She’s so desperate that she allows herself to be seduced by a famous actor (Justin Theroux) who is a guest at the hotel where she works. When that falls through, she allows her mother to set her up on a date with a friend’s son (Josh Hamilton) who, it eventually turns out, is still too hung up on his ex.
Just when all seems lost, she meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud), a coworker’s friend who lives in Paris but is in New York for a brief time. Nora and Julien hit it off right away and have a wonderful few days together before he must return to France. Although he asks Nora to come with him, she says she can’t. But later she realizes she made a mistake, so she flies to Paris. The problem now is that she has lost the piece of paper with Julien’s phone number on it and has no other way of finding him in a city of twelve million people.
So what’s wrong with this? Well, before I go into everything that’s bad, let’s start with some good things, because, as my favorite writing teacher taught me, always begin with something positive.
Now that that’s said, I can tell you that the film as a whole has many problems.
So a promising film ended up as a big disappointment. Overall, I felt that it just borrowed too heavily from “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”—down to the last line, even—but was no where near as good as those two films. I’m sorry to say that the negatives outweigh the positives in this mediocre movie. You’re much better off renting the other two films instead.
That is, unless of course, you’re just crazy for Parker Posey. And, well, who can blame you for that?
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