The Broken Hearts Gallery (2020)
Director: Natalie Krinsky
Screenwriter: Natalie Krinsky
Starring: Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery, Uktarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, Phillipa Soo, Suki Waterhouse
The Broken Hearts Gallery is flush with independent coffee shops, tote bags, milk alternatives, skincare routine gags, scrunchies, progressive vagina jokes and thrift shopping. And while it might seem that this hipster, meme humour and millennial iconography would only appeal to those of us born in the era of selfies, vegan bacon and online liberal activism, there is, like actually, something for everyone in this timely, fun-loving take on a once stale and formulaic genre. This feature debut from Natalie Krinsky cleverly delivers the familiar beats of a classic, much-loved rom-com, giving the tired tropes an injection of energetic, topical humour, while never daring to take itself too seriously. Although millennials have gleaned a reputation – somewhat unfairly – for being sarcastic and self-involved, Krinsky seems unafraid to playfully poke fun at the problems and love struggles of modern-day young women.
Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan) is the wildcard in her trio of girlhood friends, which also consists of horror enthusiast Amanda (Molly Gordon) and model/serial dumper Nadine (Phillipa Soo). Her love-life has seen some severe ebbs and flows over the years – the memories of which she preserves in an overwhelming number of trinkets and keepsakes. You’ve heard the phrase ‘one girl’s trash is another girl’s treasure?’ Well, Lucy’s romantic riches include shoelaces, ticket-stubs, used-retainers, stolen car keys, ties and rubber ducks, all of which she hoards in her New York City apartment; her bedroom resembling a shrine to the failed relationships of her past. However, with her fancy job in Eva Wolff’s (Bernadette Peters) art gallery and her hot-shot adult (he owns a fridge) boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar), things seem to be finally going well for Lucy. That is, until, she makes a boozy, jealousy fuelled speech at a work event which gets her both fired and dumped in the same night.
Following this – in a distraught and tipsy meet-cute – Lucy mistakes Nick’s (Dacre Montgomery) car as her Lyft ride home, and refuses to get out or listen to his protests of mistaken identity. Eventually, taking pity on her, Nick drives Lucy home, while lending her tale of woe a sympathetic ear. They part unceremoniously. But then, in the way typical New York lovers do in the magical City – home to just a measly eight-million people – the pair bump into one another once again; this time sparking a flirtatious friendship that will intertwine their uncertain predicaments. Lucy, unphased by Nick’s financial troubles, offers to help Nick in his efforts to open a boutique-style hotel, and in return, Nick gives (a now jobless) Lucy permission to launch her art project in the hotel lobby. The project becomes ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery’, an underground art sensation in which countless heart-sick New Yorkers come to display items and souvenirs of former or lost loves. Lucy’s zealous belief in love pitted charmingly against Nick’s brooding cynicism, staged on an inviting backdrop of rich New York City cinematography, is the perfect recipe for romance.
With a bunch of well-received supporting characters under her belt (Blockers, Bad Education), it’s glorious to see Geraldine Viswanathan take the helm in a significant leading role. She lands every punchline with zest and delivers well-timed, outrageous facial expressions and physical movement that is reminiscent of comic, silent era pictures. ‘’Do you have time for Planned Parenthood?’ a street activist gathering petition signatures screams out at Lucy as she charges past, busy chasing an ex-boyfriend. On hearing the request, she grinds cartoonishly to a halt, turns back and delivers a mocking over the top sigh: ‘’Yes’’ she says, leaning over to scribble her signature on an outstretched clipboard. Her physically implying that the interruption is a chore, albeit an important one.
This animated performance alongside Krinsky’s wry, contemporary script, builds an earnest story which feels elevated from the typical beats of an average rom-com. Fleshed out supporting characters only add to the movie’s charm, with each character bringing a treasure trove of idiosyncratic quirks: Molly Gordan’s Amanda – with her whimsical fixation on all things macabre and her playfully sinister relationship with her mute boyfriend Jeff (Nathan Dales) – delivers comic gold again and again in a standout role. Meanwhile, Dacre Montgomery’s Nick is an ideal yin to Viswanathan’s yang. While there is a familiar and alluring leading man physicality to Nick, he also exudes doe-eyed vulnerability and genuine care for his friendship with Lucy. Refreshingly, he seems more interested in getting to know Lucy than seeking out a carnal, attractiveness-based connection, towards which, modern-day men of the Tinder generation usually gravitate.
Yet despite an energetic script and a concoction of exceptionally delivered character performances, some underdeveloped crucial details in Lucy’s personal life means that the film fails to deliver the emotional sucker punch it seemed to be gunning for. A last-minute explanation for her obsessive memory hoarding (revealed in the film’s grand conclusion), while transparently personally affecting for Lucy, fails to pull at the heartstrings in any significant way. Lucy’s backstory deserved to be more than an afterthought in a handful of disjointed scenes; to have expanded on this kind of narrative detail throughout would have created a more strikingly emotional through-line and benefited the overall execution of the plot.
Still, after a few long miserable months, The Broken Hearts Gallery is precisely the type of film to get you smiling once again. It is pure infectious fun, from beginning to end, with everything from exuberant fashion choices and colourful set design to silly gags and romantic gestures relighting the excitement and uncompromising magic of the big-screen-experience. Its main strength lies in its ability to make fun of itself, which it does so often by ironically and unapologetically embracing the cringe-inducing, customary emblems of traditional so-called chick-flicks, perfectly portrayed when Nick plainly responds: ‘What does it look like? It’s a grand gesture,” when Lucy questions why he appears to have lugged a huge, heart-shaped neon sign half-way across the City to interrupt her Gallery’s grand opening.
‘Making a fool of oneself is one of life’s greatest pleasures’ says Lucy to Nick as she attempts to lighten his pessimistic approach to life. And while her statement might be subjective, it is, undoubtedly, a great pleasure to watch her try and prove her words true.