There is something inherently kitschy about Natalie Krinsky’s The Broken Hearts Gallery from its classic 90’s rom-com feel to how it embraces the idiosyncrasies of a new generation of New York newcomers and the fresh perspective they bring with them. It’s also a film that runs about 20 minutes too long, time entirely devoted to extended, time passing montages full of popular music that serves little to no discernable purpose beyond picking up the pace of a film thats already filled with constantly bold comic beats, a luminous central performance and apace that doesn’t need any forced assistance. If you can forgive a few extended music video interludes as you go, The Broken Hearts Gallery is for you, as it definitely was for me.
Following recent New York transplant Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan) as she tries to make her new life work in the New York art scene as an assistant to a famous gallery owner. When she is unceremoniously dumped by her latest boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and makes a fool out of herself, she finds herself alone and jobless in the big city. When she meets cynic Nick (Dacre Montgomery) she finds someone willing to make her face the fact she has hoarded ‘mementos’ from all her past relationships instead of moving on. When Nick convinces her to part with one solitary item, The Broken Hearts Gallery is born and with it a new lease on life and love.
While Krinsky’s script is enough of a draw here, with a constant firing of preposterous but razor sharp jokes that play to a film with a biting edge but a wide, open heart. It’s surprising considering the subject matter and how the film is essentially a discussion of heartbreak and moving on from failed relationships, but Krinsky never allows a frame of her feature to descend into the doldrums of moping or self-pity even if its characters do. When Lucy proves self-destructive and depressing, her occasionally supportive roommates, the strangely dark but emotionally stable Amanda (Molly Gordon) and self proclaimed breakup expert Nadine (Phillipa Soo), played as spiritual successors to the likes of Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally, fill any comedic void you might be feeling. Their constant mockery proves a willing embrace of rom-com tradition instead of trying to subvert them to achieve some grander meaning. Sometimes fun can just be fun.
While it has become cliché to say that the other important character here is the city itself. Even my romantic side sees the stupidity in that statement hidden beneath the good meaning lyricism, even though I know I’ve used that saying in reviews prior, its impossible not to notice a different New York here, one of vibrant colours, constant activity and hidden treats to be discovered. Lately, New York has been the town of seedy crime stories highlighting the murky underbelly of a city so many idolize. It’s a pleasant change of pace to know that down a narrow alleyway isn’t a scar faced murderer but a niche store selling beautiful neon signs. The opening sequence itself is a gleefully edited snapshot of a city Krinsky clearly loves but it serves a purpose, to announce The Broken Hearts Gallery as a film for dreamers, for the aforementioned romantics while proclaiming itself a soothing balm for the cynical among us.
Despite being a light hearted feature, there is still plenty hidden within from a smartly layered discussion of dementia to the reality of actually making your dreams make sense in the real world. Despite being the kind of wish fulfillment that makes for an entertaining couple of hours, Krinsky fills her story with enough of the real world that the achievements Lucy and Nick grow into seem both believable and jubilant at the same time. While the end leans heavily into the sentimental, mostly, Krinsky earns it along with Viswanathan who proves the shining star here, a needle threading highlight in a film full of them.
While Dacre proves a welcome foil, Viswanathan carries the show. Both theatrical and subdued, Lucy in her hands is an ideal guide to the New York depicted here and the films central concept seems suited not only to the written version of Lucy but also Viswanathan’s performance, a story that plays to youthful optimism and a hopeful approach to angst and handling disappointment. While a few of the traditional tropes might have you rolling your eyes (Nick and Lucy’s meet cute is the modern version but even in 2020 it feels dated) but mostly it will make you appreciate a few of the classic forgotten ones (Karaoke singing and a decent grand gesture being but a few).
While its hard to find fault in a film this optimistic, humorous and unrelentingly positive, you may find yourself squinting at just how bright and happy Krinsky’s film is, its a more than welcome addition to 2020’s cinematic offerings, something we all need at a time like this and easily something I can see gaining a cult following in the future. The rom-com is back and this practicing cynic couldn’t be happier.