Recent American high school graduates Alice (Danes) and Darlene (Beckinsale) take a trip to Thailand and end up in a women's prison when they are caught with a lot of heroin at Bangkok's Don Mueang International Airport while trying to board a plane for a side trip. Now they must rely on Hank (Pullman), an American lawyer living in Thailand, to convince the courts to free them.
This movie has examples of the following tropes :
- Bittersweet Ending: Only Darlene is released at the end because Alice strikes a deal to serve her sentence as well as her own. Alice manages to find comfort with the assumption that Darlene and Hank will one day be able to get her freed as well.
- Daddy's Girl: Darlene is heavily implied to be this to her father; he in turn is quite protective of her.
- Drugs Are Bad: Subverted; obviously drugs are bad, but drug trafficking, at least in this film, is much worse.
- Flipping the Bird: Alice gives this to one of the guards while she and Darlene were initially detained.
- Hellhole Prison: The titular "Brokedown Palace" definitely qualifies.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Alice and Darlene have been friends since they were babies.
- In Medias Res: The opening scene has the lawyer listening to a tape from the girls.
- Ironic Echo: Discussed in the argument between Alice and Darlene's father, Doug: he knew her to always be a troublemaker from the time she was a child, from spilling paint on the family's couch to driving drunk in his car where she would always claim "I didn't do it!" This makes him provoke her into saying it again, much to her anger and anguish.
- Karma Houdini: Nick/Skip never pays for setting up Alice and Darlene, the other girl who he fooled and for all we know, could still be doing this to many more unsuspecting women in Thailand.
- Naïve Newcomer: Darlene, especially after being tricked into signing a confession through a deceitful interpreter. Her ignorance to prison and everything makes her suffer far greater than Alice does.
- Not Helping Your Case: Oh, Alice. Do you really think that cursing out the Thai government/country and getting high will help your chances of obtaining freedom?
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mr. Davis gives a great one to Alice, blaming her for their predicament and for dragging Darlene down with her."You're a scammer and you're a manipulator. You think that I don't know you? You are dead wrong. The only thing that has ever come out of your mouth is lies. Six years old... the paint... the paint all over your hands. All over our couch? 'I didn't do it.' 16 years old with the beer cans in my car. 'I didn't do it.' Let me hear you say it again, Alice. Come on! Let me hear you say it in here, huh? Come on, one for old times' sake!"
- Spoiler Title: The suite of David Newman's score on the soundtrack album is called "The Arrest/ Darlene Goes Home."
- Taking the Heat: Alice offers to serve both her sentence and Darlene's (33 years on the drug charges, plus 15 for an escape attempt) if the king of Thailand will release Darlene. The king agrees.
- Titled After the Song: From The Grateful Dead's American Beauty. (It's not heard in the film, however).
- Toxic Friend Influence: Alice Marano is this to Darlene Davis. Some viewers maintain that she was the one responsible for the drugs, and that she was a drug smuggler all along.
- Traumatic Haircut: Downplayed: obviously the girls weren't happy with the haircuts they were given in prison, but considering their circumstances, that was the least of their problems.
- Unwitting Pawn: The girls end up being duped by a handsome stranger who planted drugs on them so that his mules wouldn't be suspected.