Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Praising Parker Posey

Parker Posey, who has reigned over American independent cinema since the mid-90s, is on her way to becoming the darling of the nascent HDNet Movies channel, with two premieres in as many months. Broken English, a romantic comedy with more than amour on its mind, bows tonight at 9pm EST, with an encore showing at 11pm; Magnolia Pictures is handling the theatrical release beginning this Friday, June 22, with the DVD following next week. (As she is at the center of this tripartite approach to rustling viewership Posey could be said to be the Queen of All Media, if only for a week or so.) Last month's hi-def Posey, Fay Grim, was grim all right, with seasick Dutch-angled camerawork that made it watchable only for the hardiest of Hal Hartley's few remaining hardcore devotees (how he must detest the Tarantinos and Little Miss Sunshines of the world for mucking up the US independent film scene).

But Broken English, the first feature from writer-director Zoe Cassavetes, is a tough-love charmer, with Posey's finest performance to date. Her funny, touching, and faultless portrayal is not to be missed, in the best of the Americans-in-Paris indies I have seen to date (Julie Delpy's amusing cross-cultural clash, 2 Days in Paris, which opens in early April, is runner-up. Digression: Francophilia reigns at the arthouse, with BAM Rose Cinemas devoting all of its commercial screens to French and France-set films tomorrow.)

Posey plays Nora Wilder, who could very well be Posey's Party Girl long after the party has ended. Nora, who wanted to be an artist but never got very far, works a nebulous job as a VIP concierge at a trendy hotel in downtown Manhattan, an occupation as nowhere as her love life as she settles (or, rather, unsettles) into her late 30s. Her mother, played by Cassavetes' mom, Gena Rowlands, presses her to find a man, no easy task, as she sets herself up for disappointment with a self-involved TV star (Justin Theroux) and watches another prospect (Josh Hamilton) wilt when confronted by his ex on another disastrous date. More promising is Julien (Melvin Poupaud), a Frenchman who works on film sets, obviously a good job to have these days. But Julien's time in New York is short, which forces Nora out of her comfort zone and off to the airport, to somehow find him in Paris (irritated by her clinging to her nothing-in-particular life, he has left in a huff, without leaving an address). Accompanying her is her best friend, Audrey (Drea de Matteo), who is questioning her seemingly perfect marriage to a screenwriter. Complications, leavened with a Gallic charm, ensue.

Like her director father, Cassavetes is unafraid to plumb hard-to-get-at emotions, but Broken English has a lighter, more impressionistic touch, reminiscent of the films of another screen scion, Sofia Coppola. Posey is perfectly believable as Nora, a character I have known, and maybe been (the bad date scenes strike a funny-only-in-retrospect chord for both sexes). It's interesting how Posey divides people. I have one friend who was quite serious about wanting to marry her, and others who cross themselves when she shows up in a film. It's a question of immersion, I think; if you've followed the 38-year-old's indie career closely, to know her is to love her, in a range of roles, like The Daytrippers, the splendid Clockwatchers, and many others, where she can find more variation in character. Studio work tends to flatten her appeal--she's hired to bring a certain frazzled "Poseyness," or a second-banana bitchiness, to films like Superman Returns, a curious, modern day-set Frankenstein (a TV movie intended to launch a series that subsequently languished), and Blade: Trinity, where she had to spit out venomous lines through a mouthful of enormous vampire teeth. These are not her finest hours, but if they're all you seen (those, and You've Got Mail, thanklessly standing between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan), that will be your impression.

Posey has been cast in a Fox TV series this fall, The Return of Jezebel James, opposite the Delacorte's present Juliet outdoors in Central Park, Lauren Ambrose. Careerwise, too, our Party Girl--was that only 1995? Is that so far away now?--is growing up, and I imagine out, of the finicky, low-paying indie scene. But Cassavetes has given her, and us, a parting gift, should this be the last time for a while that we see her in such a large part in a small film. Under cameraman Jim Pirozzi's deft HD lighting she has never looked so bedragglingly beautiful; she and the post-Sopranos de Matteo are effortlessly convincing as best friends, slightly separated by their choices in life; and she is finely attuned to every note in Cassavetes' insightful, observant script. If this is to be a sendoff, it is a good one.

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