Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Broken Hearts Gallery's Familiarity Undercuts Some Enjoyable Performances

Gene Siskel once opined that a question every filmmaker should ask is "Is my film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?" That rubric crossed my mind more than once watching The Broken Hearts Gallery. Lead actress Geraldine Viswanathan and the two performers playing her characters 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 Broken Hearts Gallery was more of an Everybody Wants Some!!! production where it was just about people chilling together.

Unfortunately, their chemistry keeps getting interrupted by a super conventional romantic-comedy. In The Broken Hearts Gallery, Viswanathan plays Lucy Gulliver, a 25-year-old woman living in New York City that's always keeping mementos of her past romantic relationships. Her inability to move on from break-ups hits a whole new level when her relationship with Max Vora (Utkarsh Ambudkar) abruptly ends. Now 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 begins to attract people beyond just 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. These include 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. 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-com's don't reinvent the narrative wheel. The problem is Broken Heats 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. Much of the problems do stem from Nick. On paper, he's supposed to be a detached person. But Klinsky opts to make Mick so vaguely defined that his personality fluctuates from scene to scene. He doesn't come off withdrawn as just inconsistently written. 

It's hard to invest in Nick as a person, thus, it becomes hard to invest in his romantic journey. Said journey relies on Krinsky's dialogue-based comedy, which leans far too much on sarcastic quips. Eventually, these barbs begin to blend together.A particularly frustrating issue in the script is a decision in the third act to explain where Lucy's obsession with collecting things came from. It's a move that reminded me of the pointlessness of explaining where Han Solo's last name came from. Sometimes, characters can just be characters. They don't need origin stories for all 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 Geraldine Viswanathan. Anyone whose 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 Broken Hearts Gallery. Neither Viswanathan's performance nor Krinsky's script is afraid to show off the relatably messy behaviors we've all gone through in the wake of romantic turmoil. The edges aren't sanded off here. In the process, authenticity informs the most vulnerable moments of Broken Hearts Gallery.

And, of course, Viswanathan has such great chemistry with her co-stars Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo. Their antics at a murder-themed birthday party for Gordon's character proves to be the highlight of the whole movie. Why couldn't we just take a cue from Gene 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.

The Broken Hearts Gallery is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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