A good romantic comedy is like a happy love affair. Even when our couple faces obstacles, they should feel “easy” to overcome, even if they aren’t. Even if every relationship requires work, we shouldn’t see the effort.
“Gossip Girl” veteran Natalie Krinsky’s “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is not without its charms — likable leads, amusing sidekicks (mostly), built around a cute conceit.
But the 110 minute running time is a dead giveaway that what should flow by breezily and happen without a strain are labored. Scenes that should play in shorthand are repeated, beaten to death to get across a point, and even the “cute” can feel forced.
That conceit? Lovelorn Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan) keeps mementos from every failed relationship she’s ever had. And not just concert ticket stubs and photos, but a rubber ducky here, a retainer there. A bike tire? Espresso machine?
Her cluttered apartment is, her BFFs Amanda (Molly Gordon, funny) and Nadine (“Hamilton’s” Phillipa Soo, funnier) lament, “a cove of sorrows.” She is “a hoarder,” she is told, and not for the ony time. She needs to “Marie Kondo” her life, toss out that which does not “bring joy.”
“We do not SPEAK her name in this house!”
When Lucy gets dumped and loses her job in a posh New York art gallery on the same night early on in the film, we’re treated to the film’s “meet cute.” She drunkenly hops into a random Prius, which isn’t an Uber. And the nice-enough guy (Dacre Montgomery) driving it takes pity on her and takes her home.
Their banter is a lot of glib instant psychoanalysis — Lucy the “hoarder” vs. Nick the “minimalist.”
He’s cynical — “Everyone either leaves, disappoints or dies.”
She’s sentimental — “When love crumbles, how do you preserve its ruins?”
Turns out Nick is opening a boutique hotel, doing the work converting an old YMCA himself. Turns out he has no plans for the balcony over the entry lobby. In a flash, she’s inspired to place her “collection” of “no value” in it, a “broken hearts gallery,” with every item curated and linked to an ex-lover.
And others, they quickly discover, have such mementos too — and sad or bitter or bittersweet stories to go with them. She’ll be “the CFO, chief feelings officer” of the Hotel Chloe.
The hotel isn’t finished and hasn’t even opened, and already it has buzz, Lucy has purpose and Nick just sort of rolls in her wake.
Krinsky writes glorious banter, a must in any rom-com. It’s a blend of cutesy and coarse, with riffs on mourning by “masturbating and braiding your hair for three weeks” and someone who’s as “tight as a Mormon teenager.”
A lot of the quips comes from the BFFs, bitchy lawyer-to-be-Amanda who sports a silent, earbuds-always-in six year boyfriend, and lesbian Lothario (Lothari-a?) Nadine.
There are so many asides and semi-novel touches — Lucy’s “secret” that we sort of see coming, Nick’s which we don’t — not one but TWO cloying karaoke moments, that Krinsky’s script has a hint of “a season’s worth of a sitcom” ideas about it. A little winnowing was in order, even if this or that random bit “brings joy.”
For instance, Nick has to “save” Lucy from creating a scene with an ex and she barks at him for “manhandling” her on a New York public street. New York being New York, a pushy stranger intervenes, assuming assault has occurred.
“Being a woman is like being in a God—–d ‘Nobody BELIEVES Me’ movie!”
Moments and amusing rants aside, the leads are rather pleasantly bland and don’t set off much in the way of sparks or heat. Kind of “The CW” that way. Nick is pointlessly given a best friend with little funny to contribute. Even the villain, the guy who last-dumped-Lucy (Utkarsh Ambudkar) is just pretty and pretty boring.
The casting is a landmark in representation, although few characters make much more than a passing impression. Bernadette Peters is the gallery-owning idol Lucy looks up to.
“I’m not one of these bitches who doesn’t empower women!”
And the very hook that all of this hangs on, the “gallery” of mementos, is far more interesting in its acquisition (videoed testimonials from the donors) than in curation. Kind of a non-starter as an idea, more of a website than an installation.
But the film has merits and wit mixed in thanks to the the now-30something Canadian Krinsky, famous since she was a tween typing out “sex columns” as her entre to show business.
Yes, there are too many “random” “good talk” attempts to shove fresh (ish) slang into every crack and crevice. And yes, the “Gallery” is entirely too cluttered, literally and in a make-work-project-for-a-lot-of-bland actors way. Charm is forced to fill in for charisma and players that pop.
But even if it plays like a sitcom pilot that might get picked up after a little recasting, “Broken Hearts Gallery” is never unpleasant and only rarely a drag. In rom-com starved Hollywood, call that a “win” and call it a day.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content throughout and some crude references, strong language and drug references
Cast: Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery, Molly Gordon, Phillipa Soo and Bernadette Peters.
Credits: Written and directed by Natalie Krinsky. A Sony Tristar release.
Running time: 1:48