Writer/director Zoe Cassavettes' "Broken English" is an engaging yet understated slice of life that zipped in and out of arthouse theaters in early summer. Its message ("you must love yourself before love finds you") is not only the least virginal territory a screenwriter could dare to tread, it is the essence of gooey, sentimental sap. What really makes it worthwhile is its gorgeous shots of Paris and its star Parker Posey, who is as radiant as her acting ability is boundless. Just when you think you've seen all she can do, she proves you wrong and comes off effortless all the while.
Posey is Nora Wilder, a wine-guzzling train ready to jump the track. Sure, she may not have a man, but everything else seems in order - a steady job, a spiffy Manhattan apartment, healthy relationships with her friends and family. At her core, however, resides a deep-seated insecurity that in her mid-30s is coming to a head.
"What is wrong with me?," she asks herself. "Why can't I meet someone nice?"
She then concludes she must be the problem: "I think I must be doing something horribly wrong."
Her mother Vivien, played by acting legend Gena Rowlands, tries to help but only makes her feel more self-conscious. "The good ones get snapped up so quickly at your age," she says in a half-hearted effort to console her daughter.
Nora gets set up on dates that, despite herself, she agrees to go on. Whether she is the reason behind her lack of success is not as important as her lack of self-assuredness. When at last she finds something worth holding onto in a young Frenchman named Julien, played by Melvil Poupad, she finds herself at an unexpected crossroads, flakey as ever in the face of making tough decisions.
She soon heads off to Paris with her friend Audrey, played to perfection by Drea de Matteo, in tow. Is Julien her only objective, however, or is there more to her journey than even Nora may know herself?
Cassavettes' script at once appears to be a litmus test for romance in a modern, fast-paced world, and it is, but it still requires that the viewer suspend disbelief at several junctures in the plot. This chips away at the film's merit slightly, but it does not invalidate it. The acting is sufficient at worst and stellar at best across the board, and Nora's personal predicaments will be instantly relatable to anyone at all who is introverted, shy or just plain challenged when it comes to relationships.
Like her brother Nick did when he directed the megahit 2004 adaptation of "The Notebook" by romance author Nicholas Sparks, Cassavettes casts her mother (Rowlands) in a small role. Unlike him, however, she does not maximize the emotional schmaltz to the level the script allows for. "Broken English" is by no means a happily-ever-after story of "Cinderella" proportions, and if it were it would insult the intellectual capabilities of its viewers.
With a search for love as its driving force and a complex female protagonist, "Broken English" may seem to smatter of cookie cutter Lifetime fare. What makes the difference is that despite its faults the plot boasts a good head on its shoulders that not only portrays both sexes fairly and honestly but boasts one of our generation's most underappreciated film actresses doing what she does best from the first frame to the last. For that, it is a worthy 93 minutes.