This movie hit really close to home. Before the film, I scouted out a less than sticky seat, scrawled Broken English on a sheet of loose leaf and made ready to blindly scribble exceedingly insightful notes like “Love P. Posey’s dress! H&M?” Not five minutes into the picture, I abandoned the notepad (later to be found on the floor atop a lump of chewed candy. Yummy!) and felt a decidedly strong compulsion to somehow merge my awkward self into the fabric of the chair supporting me. Not to get all true confessions on you, but it’s more than mildly embarrassing to watch your own issues flicker across the big screen.
Nora Wilder (Parker Posey) is a single gal living alone in NYC. She works PR at a hotel, takes Pilates classes, has a best friend and terrible luck in relationships. And when I say terrible luck what I really mean is terrible decision-making skills. One of the first scenes of the film is at the fifth wedding anniversary of Nora’s two closest friends, Mark (Tim Guinee) and Audrey (Drea de Matteo) Andrews. The posh couple stands before a large crowd of party-goers to profess their marital bliss and thank Nora for introducing them. Nora smiles, and in this brief moment, Posey manages to look grateful, embarrassed and hurt in one fell swoop. It’s breathtaking. Later that same evening, Nora’s Mom corners her at the party and suggests that introducing Mark and Audrey was probably the wrong course of action considering Nora’s still-single-at-30-status: “The good ones get snapped up so quickly at your age.” (Thanks, Nora’s Mom.)
With her emotional slipcovers appropriately stained, director Zoe R. Cassavetes takes us through a day in Nora’s ho-hold the hum-life. In a voice frosted with sugar substitute, Nora fields calls from high profile to high-maintenance hotel patrons. One such guest is actor Nick Gable (Justin Theroux). Typically, I would be entertained watching Justin Theroux flip through a magazine, but outfitted with a mo-hawk and Kumbaya beads, man-skankdom rolls from his character in giant waves of relationship red alert. This is, however, precisely why Nora accepts his invitation to dinner. She drinks too much, compliments him overly, and winds up shame-walking home the next morning. Even more depressing is that Nora is so desperate to prove her entanglement that she brags to both her friends and parents that Nick is her “new boyfriend.” Don’t get me wrong. Nora isn’t some starry-eyed moron who mistakes sex for love. She’s just so-bone-tired of constant pressure to have and be something she currently is not that she wigs slightly. My pain? Check. Strumming it? Check.
After the inevitable realization that Nick is not so nice, Nora withdraws even further into anxious, stagnant introspection. She spends time with blonde, beautiful Audrey who at first glance appears to be the kind of woman relationship success comes easily to. During one of their wine and whine sessions, Nora mentions her insecurity about being alone, but both women immediately brush it off as “absurd and ridiculous.”
This is probably a good time to bring up the obvious: Parker Posey is gorgeous. Every man I’ve ever met, including my Dad, has said something about Posey along the lines of, “I want to have 10,000 of Parker Posey’s babies.” So, it’s more than a stretch to watch her bemoan singledom. However, Broken English has less to do with datelessness and more to do with the idea that women, no matter how modern or self-reliant, feel some pressure to be in a defined relationship. Because being in a committed relationship suggests a measure of mental health and personal worth that singles are, by definition, not capable of, right? Nora even comments “I think I must be doing something horribly wrong, but I don’t know what it is.”
The only thing really wrong with Nora is that she doesn’t trust herself. Spending all her time worrying about not being something squashes her chances of becoming anything. The real moments of progression in the film are those in which Nora exhausts her own anxieties, ceases her maudlin mania and begins to actually do stuff other than complain. At one point, she flies solo to the party of a creepy co-worker and meets a devastatingly charming Frenchman (Melvil Poupaud). Embarking on a brief (and oh-so-adorable) affair with the straw fedora-sporting Julien, Nora is at first enlivened but eventually falls back into her lackluster doubts and second guesses herself into the same lonely corner. It’s fascinating to watch Posey act. I’ve seen her in about a bazillion movies but never in such a vulnerable, serious role. She plays Nora as someone who realizes how stereotypical it is to be so self-involved but unable to control it … and she does it brilliantly.
Broken English avoids defining itself as just another whinychick flick. There are several moments in the film when Nora’s character could easily become a stereotypical vehicle for confectionary female empowerment. Woman leads sad life, so woman takes irrational risk and consequently, woman finds true love. Happily, Posey shuns this by injecting her character with a deprecating self-awareness that cancels out the cliché. Though Nora acts somewhat rashly later in the film, she doesn’t expect her life to improve or even change. Instead, she seems to be conducting an experiment on herself — a litmus test of what her capabilities are without familiar pressures and distractions. The truly remarkable thing about both the character and the film is that Nora learns nothing she didn’t already know. Her journey doesn’t end in fanfare; in fact, it doesn’t end at all.
Constance Howes is a book critic for Pajiba and a graphic designer living in Philadelphia. She is single, takes Pilates classes, has a blonde best friend and terrible luck in relationships. She sometimes blogs over at I Love You in the Face.
Pocket Full Of Posey
Broken English / Constance Howes
Film Reviews | July 19, 2007 | Comments ()