- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2007

“I haven’t slept without a drink or sleeping pill since I can remember,” says thirtysomething, unhappily married Audrey (Drea de Matteo) while stretching into a yoga pose.

“Join the club,” responds her best friend Nora Wilder (Parker Posey).

On an afternoon in early June, writer and director Zoe Cassavetes — daughter of John — sips a beer and talks about her debut film, “Broken English,” which covers the well-worn ground of lonely thirtysomething women with a little dry humor, a lot of wine and the occasional cliche.

Miss Cassavetes insists that this film is not a typical romantic comedy. “There aren’t very many female directors or female writers, and I think because of that you do get labeled in this kind of ‘chick flick’ mentality,” she says.

However, the film doesn’t pick up on feminism where the confident and successful New York women of “Sex and the City” left off. Nora hates her job, blames herself for not being married and seems too consumed by her own anxieties to connect with anyone.

When she finally meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud), the charming French man who is far more patient with her neuroses than one would expect, Nora needs alcohol, cigarettes and pills just to go through the motions.

“Sometimes in life you feel so much pain, and all this stuff is available to you and kind of socially acceptable to do, so you completely overmedicate yourself just so you can tune out for five minutes from the constant buzzing of nightmare feelings in yourself,” Miss Cassavetes says.

Miss Cassavetes has a knack for expressing the raw loneliness of a scene, saving the audience from all the expected romantic comedy elements like a bouncy soundtrack, montages and cutesy flirtations that never miss a beat. Acquaintances float in and out of the film with little explanation or back story, creating the impression that Nora is adrift in the big city without a husband to anchor her down.

Beyond an impressive attempt at reproducing the awkward lilt of actual conversation, however, Miss Cassavetes brings little that’s truly new to the storytelling table.

Parker Posey, who typically offers the comic relief in quirky films like this one, gives a career-redefining performance as the fragile Nora.

“She’s not a cookie-cutter image,” Miss Cassavetes says. “She’s very interesting to watch, especially when she’s not saying anything.”

Nora works at a hip Manhattan hotel, catering to the petty needs of such spoiled guests as movie star Nick Gable (Justin Theroux). Mr. Theroux is deliciously smarmy, telling Nora she is “totally refreshing” before revealing himself as just another dating failure in an endless series of mistakes.

Miss Cassavetes tapped her real mom, actress Gena Rowlands, to play Nora’s overbearing mother, who chastises her for letting Audrey marry her successful friend Mark and then advises her to “put on the highest heels you can find” in order to find a husband.

Shooting those scenes with her real mother was fun — not awkward — because in real life, Miss Cassavetes says, “She never really pushed me like that.”

Much has been made in the media about the close-knit group surrounding Miss Cassavetes and her close friend, fellow second-generation director Sofia Coppola — a group that includes designer Marc Jacobs and actor Jason Schwartzman. Miss Cassavetes admits that her film, like many of her father’s films, relied on contributions from her friends, ranging from the use of an apartment for a set to playing a small role in the film.

“You call in every favor that you’ve ever had in the world,” she says.

But don’t think that Miss Cassavetes was able to write and direct a film nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize simply because of her connections. If anything, she says, it took three years to find financing for the film because of her last name.

Miss Cassavetes tries to both break out of the shadow of and take inspiration from her father, John Cassavetes, the groundbreaking filmmaker who died in 1989 when she was only 18 years old. He once told her to do something creative every day, a lesson she does her best to follow.

“It’s so easy to get lost in the world, and, as an artist, you have to keep creating,” she said.

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