July 11, 2007
Life Imitates Art After Broken English
Thirty five-ish Nora Wilder earns stellar marks at her job as chief of guest relations for a boutique Manhattan hotel. Yet like so many career women, her personal life rates a big zero.
Being a movie, it's inevitable that Nora will find her soul mate in Broken English. Yet astutely sidestepping the pratfalls of traditional chick-lite romantic comedies, writer/director Zoe Cassavetes doesn't stray far from her familial pedigree. Like her famous dad, John, she refuses to pull punches.
Nora, her protagonist, is a pill-popping, anxiety-prone, painfully lonely, insecure New Yorker, who has just about given up hope that Mr. Right will ever make an appearance.
"I think my father's films are some of the most painful and daring films I've ever seen. He had a gift for showing people in pain and I've always been attracted to those themes as well," said the 36-year-old Cassavetes, proudly adding, "I'm exactly the same age as my father when he made Faces in 1959."
Broken English has autobiographic elements and a similar outcome that occurred only after the script was completed.
"When I thought of the idea for Broken English it was at a time when I was totally overwhelmed by people asking me whether I was married or had a boyfriend. At a certain age society almost insists that you fall in love, get married and have children, but at the same time we're even more confused generally about relationships," said Cassavetes, who began her career as co-creator with longtime friend Sofia Coppola of Comedy Central's digital video show "High Octane."
In Broken English Nora (Parker Posey) encounters a handsome younger Frenchman named Julien (Melvil Poupaud) at a friend's July Fourth party. Sparks fly and Julien begs Nora to "run away" with him. He returns to Paris, she sinks into depression. Joined by girlfriend Audrey (Drea DeMatteo of "Soprano" fame), Nora is off to Paris to track down Julien and find happiness.
When the 20-day shot was finished, Cassavetes returned to her Greenwich Village apartment to begin editing. A few days later there was a knock on the door. It was French musician Sebastian Chenut, the film's co-composer and now Cassavetes' fiancé.
Cassavetes, who recently completed a video for comedian Chris Rock, laughed, "So art didn't imitate life. This time life imitated art. The next thing I write, the girl is gonna win the lottery!"
Enthusiastically singing Cassavetes' praises, Parker observed, "She was really in her element. She's so great to be around. Melvil used to say, 'She's so relaxed. It's amazing.'"
"Her mom [Gena Rowlands, who plays Nora's mom] would tell me that when they went to parties, Zoe would go up to her and say, 'Now that's so and so from this . . . And that person is . . .' Her mom said she was very much like her father in that sense of awareness. You have to have that when you sit in that chair so people respect you."
Asked if the plot was valid and could actually happen, Posey quipped, "Yeah, it happens to me all the time. I fall in love easily. I just do. Not that I do anything about it. As an actor I can totally go to another country."
"It's not a goal for me. My life isn't a goal now. When people come into my life, I don't go like, 'There he is. He's the one right there.' It's more a day-to-day thing and my life is different from day-to-day. I'm so happy. I can say there were times when I was alone and I wasn't happy, or in a relationship and I wasn't happy, but I'm optimistic," said Parker, who's been appearing on TV's "Boston Legal" and plans to return in the midseason replacement "The Adventures of Jezebel James."
Genuinely delighted by the response to Broken English, Posey, who was recently seen in Superman Returns, recalled, "The night the movie premiered at Sundance, some guys were there at the restaurant, cool guys with tattoos. They were like, 'I've shared your plight, Nora, I've been there.' It's amazing the different levels people love, and the different realities people enter with their hearts, souls, and paths. People love love stories and it's fascinating how people get there. It's instantly relatable."