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Movie Review: Broken

By Mike Everleth ⋅ June 17, 2006

Broken: Todd (Paul Phipps) & Larry (Dick Boland)

It’s always exciting to come across two separate pieces of literature that employ similar ideas at roughly the same moment in time. You have to wonder, “Is what I’ve just experienced a coincidence or is there some trend in the air?” I mean, you can’t read an article about ’50s sci-fi movies without the piece making some sort of reference that the movies are all about Communisim and the Cold War. Therefore, you end up thinking, “Have I come across a theme that they’ll be talking about 20-30-50 years down the line?” In this case, probably not, but I’m always on the lookout.

No sooner had I finished Sam Henderson’s Magic Whistle #10 graphic novel, which includes the short novella “A 22-Page Story About Telemarketing and Sex Parties,” that I watch Jay Hollinsworth independent film Broken. Both are somewhat exaggerated comedies, although Broken is way more subdued than Henderson’s typical broad surrealism. What the stories share, though, is the theme that telemarketing represents the absolute lowest depth that the modern American male can submerge to.

Now, I myself had a telemarketing gig many, many years ago, so I completely understand what a soul-sucking enterprise it is and the attraction of having it represent the lowest bowel of Hell. At the time I was desperate to make any kind of money and the company tricked a group of us workers into taking this job, which we got through a temp agency. We were told we weren’t going to be selling anything at all, but that we were going to be verifying customers were receiving a product. I hope I’m a little smarter today than I was then to fall for that crap, but who knows.

Telemarketing is only a very small portion of Broken, however, although it is in there so I thought I’d mention it. The film is about a failed telemarketer, Todd, who loses his job and his girlfriend, but in which order we don’t know — and that’s not a criticism, it’s part of the plot. To get his head back on straight, he goes to visit his mother, who isn’t home and instead Todd ends up hanging out with his older, more responsible brother Larry.

The movie, for the most part, is strictly a two-man show, which is asking a lot. First, while shooting, the director is asking a lot of his actors, who don’t have much film experience, to carry an entire movie on their shoulders. Secondly, it’s asking a lot of the audience to accept these two guys. If the audience doesn’t, then no matter how good the story, cinematography, etc. is won’t make people enjoy the film. It’s either those two guys or nothing. Luckily, Hollinsworth got two very likable guys, Paul Phipps (Todd) and Dick Boland (Larry), in the lead roles.

Broken takes place in an undisclosed location, but the film is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Hal Hartley, particularly his early stuff, so I kept imagining it was on Long Island. The film has that sort of slow pace approach to comedy like Hartley and the characters have oddball obsessions and talk to each other as if they are talking to themselves not other people. This can cause some problems, in particular an early scene where Todd and Larry get drunk together that goes on much longer than it should and makes neither character seem particularly engaging. I momentarily wondered what Broken was actually going to be about during this scene, but happily interest picked up again when little uncommented upon details in following scenes suddenly acquire huge significance.

I also think Broken represents a new trend in no-budget, independent filmmaking. Digital technology has advanced to the point where high-tech programs are now easily available and used to solve low budget problems. No-budget filmmakers don’t have to create fantastic alien worlds, but if simple locations or shots can’t be made easily in camera, then directors can create passible facsimiles on the cheap. Hollinsworth does this several times in Broken, for example just to create a simple establishing shot of a roadside motel at night. Yes, you can tell the motel is faked, but today movie audiences are so used to seeing “fake as real” shots they will easily accept the reality of the digital creation as part of the filmed world (Broken is otherwise shot on real film).

Broken is a great showcase for Phipps and Boland, who should go on to good indie acting careers like Martin Donovan (star of Hartley’s The Unbelievable Truth and Trust), if they choose to. Meanwhile, Hollinsworth proves to be a creative filmmaker when he doesn’t have too much to work with: A creative script, two actors, a few simple locations (mainly one) and the rest created digitally. Nice.

More on this film: Watch Broken on Vimeo