Romantic comedy is one of the hardest genres to get right in Hollywood these days. Maybe that’s why there are so few of them and even fewer good ones. Creating fresh characters to fall in love with each other, finding reasonable but compelling obstacles for them to overcome, and wrapping it all up with a strong finish isn’t easy. We’ve all seen too many ‘boy meets girl’ stories and can see the plot points coming a mile away. Rom-com’s also need charming leads, recognizable chemistry between them, and an unlabored tone that makes us want to spend time with their story.
Unfortunately, while meaning well, THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY is not an acute effort. Natalie Krinsky is a talented writer who’s had many successes on TV, but in her writing/directorial debut on the big screen, she embraces far too many cliches of the rom-com genre and writes characters and comedy that are more irritating than amusing.
For starters, Krinsky fails to realize that the first rule of comedy is that no one must act like they know they’re in one. Whether it’s keeping Count Orsino from discovering you’re a woman, or helping Elke Sommer escape a nudist colony, characters in comedies must act serious about the stakes at hand, no matter that they are laughably ludicrous to those of us in the audience. In THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY, Krinsky allows all of her cast, save veteran Broadway star Bernadette Peters in a small supporting role, to pitch their performances way too big. They are trying to be funny and it shows.
Such hamminess thwarts Geraldine Viswanathan’s lead performance as Lucy. She’s got some charms for sure, but if she didn’t roll her eyes so much or deliver most of her dialogue to the balcony seats, she might have made for a more lovable romantic lead struggling to get her life back together. Instead, her Lucy veers very close to boorishness throughout, as do her BFF’s (Molly Gordon, Phillipa Soo).
When the three of them get together, their banter plays like the Three Stooges mixed with the women from SEX AND THE CITY. They talk over one another, quipping like they’re in some sort of contest with each other, about everything from saving dating mementos to the feeling of vaginal penetration, and their arch conversation labors to be funny. The three characters needed to be more distinct in their words too. You hear the screenwriter’s voice in their dialogue, not separate characters speaking as individuals.
While the female characters are big, bold, and brazen, the male lead comes off as vague and even dull. Dacre Montgomery’s Nick is a moody and serious hotel renovator, but he’s kind of a wet blanket in every scene. Worse still, he has little discernible chemistry with Viswanathan. Granted, somebody has to play things straighter, but Nick isn’t all that interesting of a character, at least not enough to earn our rooting interest.
Too often, Krinsky seems to be making a movie about rom-com’s, not a movie about romance, especially when she hauls out hoary tropes that have been exhausted onscreen for decades. Lucy dances to pop ditties in her apartment, as did so many Kate Hudson’s and Jennifer Lopez’s before her. Lucy loses her boyfriend to another woman one night, and, surprise surprise, insult is added to injury when she loses her job then too. And would it surprise you to know that our main couple breaks up over issues that could have easily been worked out if they’d simply had a smarter conversation about it?
Krinsky does succeed in zigging in some places where she could have all too easily zagged. Alar Kivilo’s cinematography has a rich glow to it instead of the fuzzy handheld style of too many small-budgeted movies. Two of the players in the story’s love triangle are people of Indian descent. And Krinsky manages to make many of her third-tier characters register. But if she’s going to toil in the demanding genre of rom-com’s, her greatest accomplishments need to be in its primary features, not its incidentals. Then, it will be easy to love.