Broken English

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Broken English Movie Poster Image
Edgy girl-meets-boy indie for older teens and up.
  • PG-13
  • 2007
  • 96 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Nora's a mess -- she pops prescription pills when she's about to have an anxiety attack or a meltdown; she's dismissive of (and rude to) her co-workers; her best friend ridicules her own marriage; and some of the men she dates are users. Also, infidelity and drug use are hinted at.


Just Nora mentally beating up on herself.


Nora and her dates sleep together, sometimes on the first date (lots of kissing, but no actual nudity). Heavy petting and kissing, and some post-coital cuddling. One scene in which a couple bathes together (only their bare shoulders are visible above the water line). Married characters flirt with each other (the assumption is that they hook up).


Occasional profanity like "s--t" and "d--n."


Not much, really, though the movie could be an advertisement for Paris, with its longing gazes at the streetscape.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Yes, yes and yes. Characters smoke weed in once scene, drink a lot (tequila, vodka with a twist), and smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this indie has more heft than the typical romantic comedy. Though it has funny moments -- the awkward dates are right on -- it also has dark undertones that may prove a little too murky for young teens. The difficulties of dating life aren't glossed over; they're excruciatingly detailed (maybe a little too excruciatingly). Sex (non-explicit) and swearing are casual, as are pill-popping and drinking -- which characters appear to indulge in not just as a social lubricant but also to dull their senses so they don't feel the pain.

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What's the story?

Nora Wilder (Parker Posey) is a thirtysomething woman on the verge in writer-director Zoe Cassavetes' graceful film BROKEN ENGLISH. Weary of being single and convinced that she's "doing something wrong," her faith in, if not love, the possibility of it, is all but dismantled after flings with an actor (Justin Theroux) and the son of her mother's friend (Josh Hamilton) go nowhere. Though she's completely demoralized, she heeds her mother's advice to "get out there" one more time and attends a co-worker's party. There she meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud), a reed-thin Frenchman who comes on so strong that she practically runs away. But she stays, and this time the risk pays off. Instead of turning into a frog like all the other guys Nora has kissed, Julien appears to be not a prince necessarily but a decent guy. Unfortunately, he's headed back to Paris after the weekend, and when he invites her to come with him -- with no promises of what will happen down the road -- she turns practical and refuses his offer. But when she promptly regrets her decision, she heads to Paris to see if love awaits.

Is it any good?

What elevates Broken English above other typical, unimaginative romantic comedies is its willingness to look at how Nora sabotages herself. It's not just that guys are horny jerks who can't commit. It's also that Nora herself may be too quick to panic, to demand intimacy, to not know what she wants. "I'm just trying to figure out if this is supposed to mean something," she tells Julien after 24 hours together. She thinks love should mesmerize like magic, and yet, Paris location aside, what she finds isn't necessarily magical at the start. The movie's title refers not just to the literal language divide between Nora and Julien but also to the chasm that separates two people longing to make a connection but unsure how to trust.

Cassavetes' promise (and pedigree -- her father is the legendary John Cassavetes) is evident throughout. She allows scenes to breathe, though the start of the film meanders a little too much. (Also annoying: The movie's forgettable "wisdom" -- i.e., you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.) The cast -- which includes Drea de Matteo as Nora's unhappily married best friend and Cassavetes' mom, Gena Rowlands -- shines. But it's Parker who's the revelation: She's still neurotic, but this time, she's genuinely lost, too. And, most important, vulnerable. When Nora finally finds what she's looking for, you're relieved and pleased, even if the ending is, well, a little too "magical."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how romantic love is portrayed in the media -- and how that shapes people's expectations. Does it set up both men and women for a big fall? Are men and women really that different in terms of what they want out of relationships? Families can also discuss whether there's any truth to the cliché that you have to know yourself to love someone else. If so, then why?

Movie details

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