A very authentic character emerges at the center of a very inauthentic film
Films like Language of a Broken Heart have me at a film critic's biggest quandary: how does one review a film that does one element perfectly but executes its other elements quite poorly? This is a film that deeply understands its main character, his flaws, his obsessive nature, and even manages to make his constant dwelling on relationships gone past quite empathetic. Anybody who has ever loved and loved too much, to a fault, even, will find something lasting about the depiction of romance in Language of a Broken Heart. The poorer elements come in when one finds just how cheekily the film handles the remainder of its elements, such as secondary characters and situational comedy, most of which in a perfunctory manner that is simply pining for laughs rather than the surefire realism one would assume from the way it depicts its leading male soul.
The film revolves around Nick (Juddy Talt), an insecure, neurotic writer of a bestselling fictitious book about love. Nick has had numerous romances in his life, all of which ended with Nick catching his other cheating on him, be it in elementary school, high school, or post-college. The back-breaking straw comes when his girlfriend Violet (Lara Pulver) suddenly demands the two need more space between one another, before Nick makes a surprise visit to their apartment to realize she's sleeping with another man. Upon that discovery, Nick becomes distant and depressed, as everything around him begins to crumble and reflect why he's an ostensible failure in the game of love - a hopeful romantic turned into a hopeless one.
Nick, however, is admittedly obsessive, trying desperately hard to get back with Violet, calling her, badgering her via texts and lengthy, spontaneous voicemails, and groveling to see her again. This is the part of the film where screenwriter Talt and director Rocky Powell could have easily made Nick a contemptible presence. While no doubt some will make the argument that he exhibits traits of somebody who's overly obsessive, Nick is also the kind of person willing to make several personal sacrifices for there to seemingly be no problems at all between him and his lover. He sacrifices his personal happiness, his wellbeing, and environment to paint the picture that everything is well and good between him and another person. I'd be lying if I said I couldn't empathize very deeply with this and speak from some level of experience. Nick doesn't exactly know what he wants in a relationship, but knows that living alone and being alone isn't something he relishes. With that, he puts himself in the position to get hurt because he doesn't know what he wants, and without ground rules or a clear-cut plan of when to cut and run with a woman, he is stuck in a rut of getting hurt and mistreated when we can tell he deserves so much more. He's nice and forgiving to a fault.
Nick begins to make his entire world stand still. He moves back with his mother (Julie White) in New York City, reconnects with his old best friend Cubbie (Ethan Cohn), and eventually winds up meeting an antiquarian bookseller named Emma (Kate French) when he loses his bag on the plane back home. Emma winds up holding his back hostage, playfully instigating Nick into getting to know him, clearly showing some kind of affection when Nick only has eyes for Emma.
You, dear reader, don't need much more spelled out after that. You know the romantic triangle being played here, and you can probably see where this is going fairly vividly. When Language of a Broken Heart found itself playing the "manic pixie dream girl" trope, mimicking it in a way that was more along the lines of the flat Garden State and less like the true powerhouse chemistry in (500) Days of Summer is when I began to lose interest. The character of Nick is such an interesting and real character, one rarely explored or one whose flaws and shortcomings wind up engulfing what ever character was there to begin with. We don't get characters like Nick too often, and to see a very real soul like them trapped in a film where everything around them is cloaked in artificiality is fairly disheartening.
There's a therapist who quotes rap lyrics and winds up taking Nick clubbing, there's a European lover in bed with Violet, there's the obnoxiously drunk best friend, there's the quirky mother who's nakedness upsets her son, and so forth. There's an endless array of situations that fall flat on their face because of the quirky way they're conducted instead of the honest, more naturalistic way they could've been presented that would've provided a greater effect. Talt and French have some amiable chemistry, but everything from the meet-cute to their perky little conversations inside her bookstore feel so diluted from reality that they can't be believed.
It's so unusual to watch a character that's so authentic be captured in a film so artificial, but Language of a Broken Heart shortchanges the power of its character by giving him lackluster and contrived situations to work with throughout the entire course of the film. Because of the film's general content and feel, it's so easy to write this off as another film about a privileged white male who struggles to be happy, but it doesn't take a deep, precise dissection of the film to reveal a great character at the center of this film. If nothing else, recognize him above anything else in the film.
Starring: Juddy Talt, Kate French, Julie White, and Ethan Cohn. Directed by: Rocky Powell.
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