' ' Cinema Romantico: Broken English (Or: Is The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Real?)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Broken English (Or: Is The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Real?)

To me, Parker Posey, the so-called "Queen of the Indies", never seemed to age. Every movie I saw her in, even "Superman Returns" (which, of course, wasn't an indie), I still saw Miami, the surly undergrad of Noah Baumbach's "Kicking and Screaming" who goes off to "look for pot" in its opening moments, and the original "Party Girl" herself. But from the very start of Zoe Cassavetes' "Broken English" (2007), our girl Parker appears to have aged, which isn't to say she's a bitter old shrew, because she's not, but that her face has actually begun to show those emotional miles. You feel reality weighing her down in this film even as the film itself winds up putting reality out with the trash.

Posey is Nora Wilder, thirty-something, working one of those jobs that is, you know, just a job, not the job of the high powered ad exec in the office overlooking Central Park. She is single. Her friends, all her friends, are married or coupled off. Not that these relationships are un-problematic. As Nora's best pal, Audrey (Drea de Matteo) says: "I haven't gone to bed without a drink or a sleeping pill in years." But Nora can feel something missing. We assume this something is love.

She meets a mohawked but surprisingly tender actor named Nick Gable (Justin Theroux) - yes, Nick and Nora, which is referenced once and no more, thankfully. He is a client at the hotel where she works, where she takes care of "customer relations", or some such thing. He doesn't have a room booked but wants one. She takes care of it. She's not supposed to go out on dates with guests but agrees anyway when he asks. The date goes well. It seems this is our Meet Cute, at which point instead of being "the one" it is revealed Nick Gable is too good to be true. He's kind of a jackass. And it seems "Broken English" has established its tone.

Namely, the myth of Meet Cute has just been set on fire. Things ain't gonna be so easy for Nora. This Nora ain't just gonna have her Nick and and solve mysteries and drink martinis. No, this is gonna be real and gritty. And then Nora attends a friend's party. Enter: The Frenchman In The Jaunty Hat.

My, that hat is jaunty!
At this point the movie goes off the rails. The Frenchman In The Jaunty Hat (Melvil Poupad)....this guy is like the ultimate personification of suave. This guy seems to have Eros talking to him in a hidden earpiece at all times. And if people are going to moan and groan and gripe and snipe about The Manic Pixie Dream Girl of Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown" then, hey, where are you now in relation to The Frenchman In The Jaunty Hat? Huh? Where?! Yeah. That's what I thought.

Please understand, I am Pro Meet Cute. I will stand in the street and get pelted with rotten fruit to defend the Meet Cute. But "Elizabethtown", as even the moaners and groaners and whiners and snipers would have to admit, establishes its rules very early on as being a film where Meet Cutes are allowed and accepted and embraced, whereas "Broken English" established its rules very early on as being the exact opposite before proceeding to go all Martin Riggs on its own rules. The Frenchman In The Jaunty Hat is the very myth it set on fire emerging from the fire to save the day.

Still, it gets worse. After The Frenchman In The Jaunty Hat returns to Paris, Nora and Audrey take a transatlantic flight to track him down. Except, of course, Nora loses his number. Oops! But fear not! Every other male she meets in ol' Paris is essentially a variation on The Frenchman In The Jaunty Hat. There is The Handsome Frenchman In The Art Gallery and then there is The Older Frenchman With Mystique. These are not people. They all dispense sage wisdom and Nora seems to have not needed The Frenchman In The Jaunty Hat at all at which point she sees....but I won't give it away.

I was ready to condemn the whole enterprise as lies except there is a twist. My sister recently visited Old Montreal which despite its Canadian setting is, apparently, entirely French and she reported that real life Frenchmen In Jaunty Hats, not to mention Handsome Frenchmen In Art Galleries and Older Frenchmen With Mystique, are everywhere! They really do exist! Hmmmmmmm. This changes everything. Maybe "Broken English" is as real as my Lady Gaga obsession.

But then what of The Manic Pixie Dream Girl? If The Frenchman In The Jaunty Hat really exists then doesn't it stand to reason The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is more than some fancy pants term invented by an effete snob with a grudge against Kirsten Dunst? I think I'm catching the next red eye flight to Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

Claire Colburn, are you out there?


Jacob said...

Nick and Nora, the original from The Thin Man. There isn't a better couple in movie history as far as I'm concerned. But I guess that really has nothing to do with your post.

Nick Prigge said...

I hate to quibble - actually I don't - but I'll take Hawkeye & Cora, Steve & Slim, and Jesse & Celine over (the real) Nick & Nora every day of the week. But that's me.

They're all better than Nora & The Frenchman In The Jaunty Hat, anyway.

Wretched Genius said...

I know you linked to that Salon article which was a bit elitist in tone and supportive of your claim, but I would like to point out that the term "manic pixie dream girl" was coined by Nathan Rabin, who is far from an effete snob. In the book version of his "My Year of Flops" column, he revisits Elizabethtown and has nicer things to say about it the second time through.

Nick Prigge said...

I was just employing effete snob as a dramatic device. It sounds better. But I also get very defensive about "Elizabethtown." I haven't read the book version so if he says some nicer things about it, I greatly, honestly appreciate it.

Simon said...

So, to clarify, Quebec and a few other regions (not Montreal) are the only French-speaking parts of Canada? I can never get a clearly-defined answer.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Prigge said...

Simon: I don't really know actually. In my sudden realization that I could attempt to vindicate the Manic Pixie Dream Girl I didn't press my sister for more information. All I can say is that wherever they were, apparently French was the only language spoken. At all. If you travel there you just have to hope for the best.

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