Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY
Rated PG-13, 108 minutes
Directed by: Natalie Krinsky
Writer-director Natalie Krinsky doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY, but she certainly finds a way to make it spin effortlessly. She assembles all the expected, genre-mandated elements to form a clever, cohesive story about a lovelorn lady discovering an artful purpose to heartbreak. All at once a love letter to empowering female friendships, crafty creation, and New York City’s eccentricities, the picture doesn’t so much subvert expectations as it does live up to them, gifting us a fresh, vibrant and cute romcom.
Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan) has always been bad at love. Not only is she super neurotic and a hopeless romantic, but her biggest problem is that her over-sentimentality has caused her to hold onto trinkets from past relationships like sad talismans. These souvenirs of sadness have cluttered her life for years, carrying over into new romantic entanglements. Even her longtime best friends/ roommates Amanda (Molly Gordon) and Nadine (Phillipa Soo) can’t get her to toss these obfuscating objets d’art. However, a wake-up call arrives one night when she’s fired from her art gallery gig and her perfect boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar) dumps her.
Suffering from a shattered spirit and with tears blurring her vision, she mistakes Nick’s (Dacre Montgomery) Prius for her Uber. The empathetic driver relents, deciding it’s easier to let his perplexed passenger vent as he drives her home since she’s selfishly not listening to him correct her misunderstanding. As happenstance would have it, the pair randomly meet a second time with Nick once again rescuing Lucy from her now literal burden – a heavy Hefty bag filled with undesirable knick-knacks her friends have finally forced her to purge. He’s renovating a building in hopes of turning it into a cozy, Instagram-ready boutique hotel for clientele caught in transitional phases. In exchange for free labor, Lucy convinces Nick to transform his second floor into a space for her to create a high-concept art installation utilizing the junk she’s been holding onto. And wouldn’t you know it, her self-dubbed “Broken Heart Gallery” concept connects with others willing to contribute and therapeutically work through their heartache.
Though we can call out every ingredient in this recipe, once they’re all stirred together, they combine for a comforting, soothing broth. Lucy’s disastrous day that leads to her meet-cute is funny and charming – just like the protagonist herself. Time spent on the budding romance between the pair when they wander city streets, talking and searching for discarded furnishings (playing up the theme that one person’s trash is another’s treasure), has us falling for the couple as well. Situations that would tend to be written as broad shenanigans in other romcoms are given a humanistic undertone, like Lucy suffering small and large indignities at the behest of her exes, or Lucy meeting with her former boss (Bernadette Peters) to ask for help. There’s also an incredibly poignant queer story thread revolving around a gay couple and a stolen bottle of champagne. (Reader: my heart has never been clutched harder this year).
Perhaps where the film and its stirring sentiments soar is the sequence early on when Lucy arrives back at her apartment, dumbstruck and devastated from her extremely bad day, to find her supportive, but sorta cynical roomies on the couch waiting for her. The camera remains static, slowly pulling in on Lucy plopping onto the couch as her girlfriends scramble all around, handing her chips, ranch dressing, sunglasses, and a full wine bottle, wrapping her in a soft blanket like they’re a specialized triage unit for the broken-hearted. Modulating the tonal fluctuation from the prior comedy-forward scenes to this sadder one takes skill. While Amanda and Nadine aren’t the most evolved individuals when it comes to their own romances (straight Amanda is the jealous type and lesbian Nadine is an unapologetic “modelizer”), as a trio coming together to validate each other, the emotional heft of their friendship fuels the narrative’s motor.
Viswanathan proves herself every inch the leading lady, deftly delivering on screwball-inspired set-ups and pratfalls, as well as crafting a snappy rhythmic banter with charismatic co-star Montgomery. His effervescent charm sells the romance in a touching way. He brings a vulnerability and open-heartedness to the role, best showcased during the sequence featuring the inherent big gesture unveiled at the big event to win a person’s heart. Arturo Castro, who plays Nick’s confidant/ construction foreman Marcos, also turns in standout supporting work with his relaxed, breezy delivery that nails sarcasm and humor perfectly.
Yet this joyous gem is not without its blights. Pacing is an issue for a small handful of reasons, resulting in a sag in energy the middle of the feature. Overall, it’s plagued by a few repetitive story beats and superfluous scenes. Nadine teaching Lucy the art of breaking up bears no narrative impact and too much time is spent on the murder karaoke segment. A thoroughly predictable and belabored mystery involving Suki Waterhouse’s character outstays its welcome almost immediately. Her appearance should be one scene, tops. Krinsky also seems boxed in trying to write her way out of making Lucy’s ultimate choice not solely about choosing which cute boy to love. The looming threat of Max’s potential return is ham-handled. Though there’s an enlightened, smart sentiment expressed about how we’re the hero in our own love story and the villain in someone else’s, his arc didn’t need to be extended to do so. Plus, the forever component in films of this ilk – the “you lied to me” moment of the protagonist’s journey – falls flat since we’ve already figured out what that will be thirty minutes prior to its occurrence.
That said, it’s a surprisingly sharp directorial debut for Krinsky. Her instincts for character-driven drama, emotional resonance and aesthetic touches demonstrate her capabilities. She delivers a witty, delightfully engaging feature along with asserting her fervent filmmaker’s voice.
Grade: 3.5 out of 5
THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY opens in theaters on September 11.