For a time in the '90s, Parker Posey was so ubiquitous that even people who liked her work got a little tired of seeing her impish grin and cocksure pose in seemingly every other indie film. So Posey slowed her pace—two movies a year instead of four—and by the time she started showing up onscreen more again last year, it felt like the return of an old friend. She comes back fully in Broken English, a rare star turn that opens with Posey in a different key, staring at herself in a mirror, melancholy and exposed. She shows a new side, older and more serious, while giving a performance that outpaces its movie.
Posey plays a concierge for VIPs at an upscale Manhattan hotel, where she meets most of the men she dates—mainly actors who are just passing through. She also lives her life under the constant scrutiny of her mother (Gena Rowlands), whose nagging about marriage and children forces Posey to overstate how her life is going, making the reality even more disappointing. Avoiding easy jokes and breezy romance, writer-director Zoe Cassavetes tries to get underneath what it's like to be just past 30, alone and rudderless. Even when Posey meets man-of-her-dreams Melvil Poupaud, a French sound designer in town for a few weeks to work on a movie, Cassavetes focuses more on the fragile emotional state surrounding new love than she does on idyllic walks through New York's hipper neighborhoods.
But Cassavetes' unconventionality only extends so far. Given the gift of Posey at the peak of her powers, Cassavetes squanders her star in low-key, go-nowhere conversations, shot without flair and drained of any improvisatory energy. Broken English's distinct tone, at once naturalistic and flatly scripted, gives it an original feel for a while, but the movie starts petering out when Poupaud arrives. He's a male version of one of those European ingénues who ground so many '60s comedies to a halt with stiff line readings and a syrupy pace. Through no fault of his own, aside from an accident of birth, Poupaud sandbags Posey, and by the time she goes chasing around Paris trying to win him back, the audience may wonder why she even needs a man, when she's so much more interesting on her own, acting beautifully sad.