Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Ballad of Nora Wilder

Yes, I have an affinity for Miss Posey. In my younger years, I picked up a rental VHS of Party Girl and my midwestern yearning for hipness contra my total geekdom found its ideal balance. In short, I fell in love. A decade on me, Parker's career has been a forewarning of sorts. In her most empathetic roles, she has addressed the dilemma of burgeoning adulthood. There's a scene in Party Girl where Mary complains, "I'm going to be 24 soon. I haven't done anything with my life." I'm feeling you now, Mary. She would , of course, discover the magic of the Dewey Decimal system and become a librarian. Well, Nora Wilder, Posey's incarnation in Broken English (released yesterday on DVD) traverses a similar terrain. Nora went to Sarah Lawrence for art but was somewhere sidetracked and now maintains V.I.P. relations at a swank New York hotel. "I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up," she laughs off into her cup of sake.

A romantic comedy, Broken English smartly adheres to that structure. The film takes great care in exploring the emotional costs of being single in New York City. The opening scene finds Nora dressing for a party, alone in her apartment. She smokes and considers a bottle of prescription pills. She replaces the bottle and examines herself. After repeated swigs of wine, dressed, she sits down. She's not yet ready to face the music.

As a romantic comedy, it works from a simple formula, but the film understands it as such: a formula within which it might confront some less attractive subjects. Nora is a woman of a privileged pedigree and the film cuts her no slack to this end (neither does it entirely condone it). A great factor in her trappings, it is of no import what life Nora makes for herself if she is to merely rely on a husband's trust fund. To rely so strongly on another is a gamble, and pushing 35, Nora is empty handed. She also suffers from crippling anxiety and one of the film's stronger scenes finds Posey rushing home to her medication. Nora has lost sight of what she wants out of life. Coasting through, the film's best moments are not those which find her on many disastrous dates (Josh Hamilton, Justin Theroux), but those moments alone, at home - doing the rote things which take her mind off of her life. Isn't that what a romantic comedy is for? Distracting from life's diversions.

A man arrives, of course. It helps that he's the absurdly sumptuous Melvil Poupaud. In addition to being delicious and French, he's benign and sturdy, though the film thankfully spares us from making their language barrier into a trite metaphor (man / woman). And so we arrive at the midsection swelled with jouissance. As simply as the movie falls into its daydreamy affair, however, so seamlessly does it oscillate to Nora's neurosis. Here, a woman so accustomed to failure, battles with her inability to yield to what just might be exceptionally good. She asks to define their romance in the bathtub - obviously investing a great deal of emotion into their union. "We have no contract," Julien replies. The film certainly simplifies Julien, but it is not his film. He is the catalyst for Nora's introspection. Such is the strength of the Romantic Comedy structure. He must eventually return to Paris, and invites her along. When she does not follow, so begins Nora's reevaluation of life.

True, having a man be the only possible catalyst for self discovery is not the most progressive of approaches. But once more, we are reading the film from the structural standpoint of a romantic comedy. This is how it occurs in such films. Genre carries with it strict rules of conduct which Broken English wholeheartedly respects; where there is room for liberties, however, is where shines brightest.

Of course, combining two of my favorite P's (Parker, Paris) endears me to it greatly (all that's missing is the Pet Shop Boys' soundtrack). Cause you know she goes to Paris to find Julien. Her scenes there with Drea De Matteo are a comical delight, but it is Posey's ability to balance the humor with turmoil that makes it her best acting credit to date. Make no mistake, the film is Posey's most humanely dark. Her misery is heartwrenching, but it does provoke a personal liberation. Cause, yes, it being a RomCom, she comes to the realization that she so desperately needs. And this moment is of such great importance that the film's final (if not entirely guessable) surprise seems but a pleasant addendum.

Mary's all grown up. Well, she's on the right track, anyway. The film really could be viewed as a thematic sequel to Party Girl - just swap Judy Lindendorf (Sasha Von Scherler) for Gena and the gay guy for Drea (neither are much of a stretch). What happens when the lights come up and you're 35? Thanks to Parker, I kind of know what to expect. Thank god I've got a decade to prepare...


Blogger Joe said...

I'm glad you pointed out the eternal flaw of Broken English, being the equation of Nora's happiness and her finding of her man. The answer to her problems trivializes her (very) human complexities that transpire through the rest of the film. I, like you, have looked past this fault, blamed it on Zoe, and adored the film for all that is Parker (which not a lot of people did).

Also, I must admit that I adore the title of this blog entry.

12:36 AM  

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