11 year-old Skunk (Laurence) lives in a suburban English cul-de-sac with her divorced father Archie (Roth) and 14 year-old brother Jed (Milner). Also sharing the house is Polish au-pair Kasia (Marjanovic) who has been dating Irish teacher Mike for several years but, growing tired of his fear of commitment, begins to conduct an affair with Archie. Skunk is friendly with Rick, a mentally challenged young man who is sectioned following a violent attack from neighbor Oswald, whose daughter falsely accused him of rape. When Mike rescues Skunk from an attack by Oswald's bullying young daughters, he too is accused of rape and finds himself the victim of their father's anger.
Both my plot synopsis and the film's marketing would have you believe 'Broken' is yet another gritty urban British drama but this couldn't be further from the truth. For the most part, 'Broken' is charmingly upbeat, full of characters who are so damn nice you can't help but grin like an idiot while you watch them. Roth has called this his most difficult role as he's never been called on to play such an out and out nice guy before. Like 'Little Children' and 'Welcome to the Dollhouse', it focuses on how ill-equipped most of us are to deal with human relationships. You're never sure whether you want to give its characters a hug or a smack, but they're thoroughly engaging either way. What ultimately keeps 'Broken' from becoming a great film, rather than a merely good one, is an overly sentimental final act which hinges on an incident that's all too predictable.
While the entire ensemble deliver top-notch performances, it's Laurence who steals the show. Like Thomas Doret in last year's 'The Kid With a Bike', she delivers a genuinely child-like performance. Unlike many child actors, you never feel like you're just watching a miniature adult. She manages to evoke the character's intelligence without ever coming across as arrogant or unlikable. Mark O'Rowe's script helps of course. Viewing adult problems through a child's eyes could have been handled in a far more trite manner. If this were an American studio production (or even an indie like 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'), no doubt we'd have to endure an irritating voice-over in which Laurence tells us how she's so much cleverer than us grown-ups.
Like the best movies about childhood, 'Broken' asks plenty of questions but never has the arrogance to attempt to answer them.