Sign up for our free newsletter
It’s been said that Paris is a movable feast, but this new romantic comedy presents it as something more like erotic takeout. Just when an almost-middle-aged New Yorker decides to abandon her quest for l’amour, she meets a charming (and younger) French guy. Ultimately, boutique-hotel executive Nora (Parker Posey) must chase underemployed Julien (Le Divorce cad Melvil Poupaud) back to his hometown, even though she doesn’t know how to contact him there. And, it turns out, the City of Light delivers, although only provisionally. Broken English is the first feature from writer-director Zoe Cassavetes, the daughter of underground-film trailblazer John and the sister of mainstream Hollywood director Nick, and it’s a lot closer to the latter’s work. The movie stars indie princess Posey, here transmuting her usual ditziness into jumpiness, and features the filmmaker’s own mother, indie icon Gena Rowlands, as Nora’s grandchild-craving mom. (Her stepdad is played by director Peter Bogdanovich.) And Cassavetes’ script includes some knowing mockery of lower Manhattan folkways (yoga, anxiety attacks) and types (a TV actor who feigns sensitivity to score a one-night stand, a truly sensitive film-buff guy who isn’t over his ex yet). Once Julien arrives, however, the movie’s outlook becomes Gen-X bourgeois. As in many movies about the dating wars, the protagonist is given a married best friend whose own relationship is strained. While Audrey (Drea de Matteo) keeps encouraging Nora to search for passion—ultimately accompanying her to Paris in a vague pursuit of Julien—her own marriage to the “perfect” guy is unraveling. Various strangers, including a New York fortuneteller and some improbably friendly Parisians, also prompt Nora to continue her quest. One even informs her that she won’t find love until she discovers it in herself. Scratch Massive’s trip-hop score, which builds to the group’s version of the Marianne Faithfull song that provides the movie’s title, gives the proceedings a ’90s vibe. But Broken English’s musty notions of true romance and self-love rewind past Tricky and all the way to the Barry White era.