At the heart of this romantic comedy is Parker Posey's lovely, toned-down performance as Nora Wilder, the single, mid-30s Manhattanite. The role calls on her to utilize more of her dramatic acting chops than are usually on display in the more arch comic roles in which she's usually cast. Nora works as the customer-relations manager in a boutique hotel, and although the job places her in contact with lots of rich, intriguing bohos, she nevertheless feels underemployed and grievously unloved.
Yes, she's one more gal looking for sex in the city, and like the women on that HBO show (and soon-to-be motion picture), Nora's circuitous path to happiness finds a Prince Charming waiting at the end of the road. However, before Broken English descends into derivative rom-com clichés (culminating in a direct filching of the ending of Richard Linklater's much better Before Sunset, missed flight and all), the film's first half provides a delightful and knowing portrait of a woman whose battle with her own desperation offers the possibility of arriving someplace beyond the confines of the genre's prescribed happy ending.
Posey imbues Nora with a quiet dignity as her last vestiges of optimism give way to anxiety attacks as her assumed-to-be happily married best friend, Audrey (Drea de Matteo), urges her to get out into the dating pool, and her mother (Gena Rowlands, director Zoe Cassavetes' real-life mother) reminds Nora that most of the good men have already been taken. After finding no matches on an online dating site, trysting with a self-absorbed actor, and going on a blind date that ends badly, Nora meets Julien (Melvil Poupad), a Frenchman in a jaunty straw hat with whom she embarks on a fling.
First-time filmmaker Cassavetes lives up to her family's reputation, finding depths of characterization in otherwise throwaway moments. Scenes often rely too much on talk rather than on visual solutions, although there's a languid seductiveness to the film's pace. But this movie belongs to Posey, and her nuanced performance makes Broken English a worthy adventure.