The downside for Zoe Cassavetes regarding her famous family, actress Gena Rowlands and her late father, actor/filmmaker John Cassavetes, is that there will always be comparisons. The upside, at least regarding her New York-to-Paris romantic comedy, “Broken English” is that it’s something of a homecoming, a return to the New York neighborhoods where her parents began their careers. “Broken English” is a film one cheers for before watching simply due to the Cassavetes legacy. The fact that it’s a likable romp with just enough chuckles earns Cassavetes status as a moviemaker with potential.
Nora (Parker Posey) is a modern woman trying to achieve happiness despite an uninspiring hotel job and an unhappy personal life. Much needed romance enters Nora’s life after meeting Julian (Melvil Poupaud), a visiting Frenchman who pursues her with gusto. The slight mystery is whether Nora has the bravery to follow her heart.
With its bad date gags, constant girl talk and fashionable wardrobe, “Broken English” is an unabashed women’s comedy, a Marlo Thomas comedy for the 21st century. Parker Posey, whose girlish good looks belie her 13 years in films, is the queen of frazzled women and New York’s prettiest poster child. Posey is a comedic pleasure and what she lacks in dramatic range she compensates with vivacity, charisma and style.
Justin Theroux is part of a throwaway subplot involving Nora’s embarrassing fling with an actor but more solid support comes from the always enjoyable Gena Rowlands and Drea de Mateo as Nora’s best friend. The sole surprise of “Broken English” belongs to Melvil Poupaud who channels the sprit of iconic French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo with raffish charm. Melvil Poupaud is a newcomer to US audiences but he matches Posey’s bright personality with a t-shirt, jeans and an unlit cigarette constantly dangling from his lips. Once Poupaud arrives, the connect-the-dots familiarity of “Broken English” fades away. Whether intentional or not, Cassavetes deserves credit for giving the most complete role and best lines in her girl comedy to the sole man in the dramatic equation.
A romantic comedy like “Broken English” is part of the most glorious of movies genres. It’s also the most difficult genre to do well. To Cassavetes’ credit, she makes a worthy contribution to the collection thanks to a finale that’s nearly perfect. Granted, the comparisons remain. With “Broken English,” Zoe Cassavetes proves one can carve their own spot even when the ghost of an iconic father hangs over one’s shoulder.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steve Ramos is an award-winning film writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. When not on assignment, he maintains the blog Flyover Online.
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