Parker Posey may be known foremost as Queen of the Indies, but Queen of the Gaze would be a more appropriate title. As I said in my review of Fay Grim a few months back, Posey is one of the industry’s most misused great actresses, but it seems like filmmakers are finally picking up the slack. Zoe Cassavetes’s Broken English is really just a Whit Stillman-like rendering of an episode of Sex and the City (imagine if Carrie Bradshaw and the gang went to Film Forum instead of Cafeteria), but every time it lets Posey take center stage with her inimitable range of expression (which in this case, is more often for dramatic effect), you’re convinced you’re watching something more than a chick flick without KT Tunstall tunes.
The actress plays Nora, an eternally single hotel manager in New York City who is prone to corralling bad dates, dodging her well-meaning but meddlesome mother (Gena Rowlands, wasted here like much of the terrific supporting cast), and punishing anxiety attacks. After a string of dates that go nowhere, she decides to attend a nerdy co-worker’s house party, where she meets the hunky, French, straw-hatted Julien (Time to Leave‘s wonderful Melvil Poupaud). Before long, Nora and Julien start devoting all their time to each other, but only for a weekend, and in their tumultuous, yet fervently romantic time together, they begin to wonder where to take their relationship. Then the film becomes a travelogue of sorts, leading Nora on a journey of self-discovery, with best pal Audrey (Drea de Matteo) in tow.
Basically, Broken English is a hipster’s pastiche of every chick flick you’ve ever seen except with expert breeding, but it doesn’t completely erase the feeling of déjà vu. This film is most successful in its throwaway moments (Nora’s stalling after being asked out by Justin Theroux’s obnoxious actor; an impromptu afternoon wine session with a group of artsy French guys), and when it explores Nora’s self-absorptive qualities, the film wisely doesn’t let her off the hook just because she’s cute. But when the picture finally resolves with the exact same ending as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset (and I mean exactly—with even the same two last lines, for God’s sake), you have to wonder if Ms. Cassavetes gets out as much as her lead character eventually does.