The Movie Binge

Broken English


The standout quality of Zoe Cassavetes' debut feature is its simplicity. It deals with one issue and one issue only: one woman's quest to feel loved. The film's standout weakness, however, is its simplicity: it takes an hour and twenty-five minutes to get to the point that "you need to be happy with yourself first before you can be happy with someone else".

Now, it's called Broken English which, while I'm assuming has something to do with the leading man's heavy French accent and much of the story-advancing characters having English as a second language, highlights the dialogue in general. If you were to type out the dialogue of this film, or to read the written script, it would look completely inane. Everyone talks in cliches, and none of the characters have a single original idea (save one, but it's fleeting, and in the next paragraph). Which is in itself, though maybe not an original idea, a pretty good one. That's because this aspect is almost unnoticeable (the perfect amount of noticeable) due to the performance of the actors and the actual reality of the world that that reflects. That is the way people talk, as if they were in a movie, and it takes a strong performance to fold that back on itself. English, I'm talking about the language now, is broken as a means to communicate, this film seems to say, and it merely narrates our actions, which are the real messages. Again, this is simultaneously a strength and a weakness for the film.

In one scene, Nora (Parker Posey) is on a date and muses, "do you think we all turn into our parents?" To which her date replies (and here's that idea I mentioned), "I like to think of it more like 'picking up where they left off'." Intentional or not, this is a bold claim for the daughter of John Cassavetes. It certainly seems like she's trying to pick up where her father left off, and I heartily applaud her effort (it's more than can be said for ol' Nicky), but I'm left uninspired, and merely with a few morsels of truth, rather than a constant stream. Cassavetes (when I use last name only I mean John, 'cause I'm a huge misogynist) spent years and years honing the philosophy of his films before making them. And then he had his actors play out the story that was rooted in that philosophy. There's clearly way more going on, but let's leave his "style" at that for now. To look at Broken English, the philosophy is the story, as in, it's revealed like a mystery and explained like a murder plot. It's an explanation of a feeling rather than the result of one. There is very little meaningful dialogue in the film, so it could benefit hugely from cutting all of it. Just leave only the words that come as a result of a characters feelings yet aren't about them, and I think Nora's character would be left with about two lines.

I have about four thousand other things I want to mention, but instead I'll sum up: the film's desire to be real gets in the way of it being interesting. It has moments of greatness (saying goodbye in bed and the perfect final shot) but not enough for me to think about the characters any further, or to love them at all.