Review: Familiarity of `The Broken Hearts Gallery’ undercuts enjoyable performances

Douglas Laman
Special to Texoma Marketing and Media Group
Dacre Montgomery and Geraldine Viswanathan star in the delightful "Broken Hearts Gallery."

Gene Siskel once opined that a question every filmmaker should ask was, "Is my film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?" That rubric crossed my mind more than once while watching “The Broken Hearts Gallery.” Lead actress Geraldine Viswanathan and the two performers playing her character’s best friends, Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo, have such fun chemistry together. Whether they're all eating food in their apartment, drunkenly talking about their taco desires or venting about their problems, they all just work well with each other. A documentary about them all having lunch together would be quite enjoyable. In fact, these three are so enjoyable that I kept wishing “The Broken Hearts Gallery” was more of like the 2016 film “Everybody Wants Some!!,” where it was just about people chilling together.

Unfortunately, that chemistry keeps getting interrupted by the predictable plot mechanics of a super conventional romantic-comedy. In “The Broken Hearts Gallery” (now playing in theaters), Viswanathan plays Lucy Gulliver, a 25-year-old woman living in New York City, who is always keeping mementos of her past romantic relationships. Her inability to move on from breakups hits a whole new level when her relationship with Max Vora (Utkarsh Ambudkar) abruptly ends. Distraught, Lucy eventually finds solace in an unexpected place. Her new friend Nick (Dace Montgomery) is putting together a hotel in an abandoned YMCA. In the same space, Lucy begins to curate a gallery of trinkets from her past relationships called The Broken Hearts Gallery.

Soon, the gallery attracts people beyond Lucy while a spark begins to form between her and Nick. Some of the best parts of “The Broken Hearts Gallery” stem from its titular location, including recurring testimonies from people about items they kept from prior relationships. It's a universal experience, the process of heartbreak. We all know the agony of getting dumped. Yet, much like snowflakes, no two heartbreaks are the same. Everybody's got a different take on it, and the recurring stories from the gallery's contributors effectively reinforce that. Unfortunately, that same distinctiveness does not permeate the rest of writer/director Natalie Krinsky's screenplay.

Much of “The Broken Hearts Gallery” goes through expected romantic-comedy beats, which isn't in itself a bad thing. Plenty of great rom-coms don't reinvent the narrative wheel. The problem is “The Broken Hearts Gallery” doesn't have lively enough chemistry or comedy to compensate for the familiar storytelling. From the moment Nick introduces himself as a guy who distances himself from other people ("Everybody just disappears, dies or dumps you," he remarks) to Viswanathan's protagonist who gets attached to everybody, you know exactly where this is all going and the film that follows doesn't deviate from that path. Nick is an especially routine creation. While he's supposed to be detached from other people, the vague way he's written means his personality fluctuates from scene to scene. He doesn't come off withdrawn as just erratically defined.

When you can't get invested in who Nick is as a person, it becomes hard to get invested in his romantic journey. Said journey relies heavily on Krinsky's dialogue-based comedy, which leans far too much on sarcastic quips that eventually begin to blend together. A particularly frustrating issue in the script is a decision in the third act to explain from where Lucy's obsession with collecting things came. It's a move that reminded me of the pointlessness explaination about where Han Solo's last name came from. Sometimes characters can just be characters - they don't need an origin stories for all of their quirks.

Yielding much more successful results in “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is the character of Lucy Gulliver herself, who is brought to life by Viswanathan. Anyone who has seen this actress in films like “Blockers” and “Bad Education” is well aware of how talented Viswanathan is. She uses her talents quite capably here, scoring the most memorable laughs of the movie with her humorous line deliveries. What's especially admirable is her gusto in rendering Lucy's lowest points in “The Broken Hearts Gallery.” Neither Viswanathan's performance nor Krinsky's script is afraid to show off the repeatably messy behaviors we've all gone through in the wake of romantic turmoil. The edges do not get sanded off here and in the process, there's a real sense of authenticity to the most vulnerable moments of “The Broken Hearts Gallery.”

And, of course, Viswanathan has such great chemistry with her co-stars Gordon and Soo. Their antics at a murder-themed birthday party for Gordon's character prove to be the highlight of the whole movie. Why couldn't we just take a cue from Siskel and make a documentary about these three vibing together? Surely there would have been more innovation and fun there than in the routinely stale exhibit, er, feature “The Broken Hearts Gallery.”

A lifelong movie fan and writer, Douglas Laman graduated from UT Dallas and is currently a graduate student at the University of North Texas. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.