Note: The writer of this review watched The Broken Hearts Gallery from home on a digital screener. Before making the decision to see it—or any other film—in a movie theater, please consider the health risks involved. Read an interview on the matter with scientific experts.
As the romantic comedy genre enjoys a resurgence in popularity, it’s carved out its own subgenres, too. The Selena Gomez-produced Broken Hearts Gallery joins the ranks of Someone Great and How To Be Single as “breakup rom-coms”—films that use heartbreak (and a dose of close-knit female friendship) to fuel their warm, funny New York-set stories. While regular rom-coms aim to capture the universal experience of falling in love, breakup rom-coms shed a light on the flip side. “Heartbreak is the loneliest, most isolating feeling in the world,” one character explains late in the film. “And the truth is, it happens to us all. It is the great equalizer.” It’s a relatable sentiment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fuel a particularly insightful movie.
The observation comes from 26-year-old art gallery assistant Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan), who has a particular obsession with heartbreak. She compulsively collects mementos from her broken relationships, turning her bedroom into a cluttered shrine to lost love. “I live in a cave of souvenirs, like The Little Mermaid,” Lucy cheerfully explains as she sorts through old retainers and cheap stuffed animals left by ex-boyfriends. But her physical and emotional hoarding is keeping her trapped in the past. At least until her messy breakup with self-centered coworker Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar) leads to a chance encounter with dreamy aspiring hotel owner Nick (Dacre Montgomery). Looking to re-house some of her breakup baggage, Lucy comes up with the idea to turn a portion of Nick’s unopened hotel into an art gallery dedicated to mementos of lost love, bringing her closer and closer to the would-be hotelier along the way.
The titular Broken Hearts Gallery is the most creative thing about an otherwise fairly by-the-numbers romance. Lucy’s makeshift gallery is a place for New Yorkers to dispose of relationship trinkets that feel too silly to keep but too important to throw away—like an unopened bottle of champagne or a map from a road trip never taken. The gallery becomes a sensation as people flock to let go of their baggage in a way that still honors the character-shaping experience that baggage represents. In a subversive riff on the “happy couple” interludes from When Harry Met Sally, The Broken Hearts Gallery features direct-to-camera monologues of people detailing their breakup stories. But—like Lucy’s own love life—these lean more toward the lightly comedic than the weightily dramatic. For a film about heartbreak, The Broken Hearts Gallery is a bit too glossy for its own good.
In her debut feature, Natalie Krinsky proves more compelling as a director than a screenwriter. Her visual filmmaking has a texture and originality that her screenplay too often lacks. Krinsky blends the comforting sheen of a big-studio comedy with the golden lighting and unique framing of something a touch more indie. Krinsky’s biggest masterstroke is casting Geraldine Viswanathan, the breakout Blockers star who’s rightly elevated to leading lady status here. Viswanathan turns in a winningly self-effacing performance with a quirkiness that seems natural, rather than put on. She effortlessly captures the mix of complete self-confidence and total self-doubt that characterizes someone in their mid-twenties. And like the best rom-com stars of the genre’s ’90s heyday, she remains magnetically watchable even when the film around her stumbles—which it does by prioritizing affable hangout comedy over meaningful character development.
The Broken Hearts Gallery introduces a fascinatingly unexpected element to Lucy’s backstory only to leave it frustratingly underexplored. Elsewhere, Molly Gordon and Hamilton’s Phillipa Soo get one personality trait apiece as Lucy’s blandly supportive besties, while Bernadette Peters brings as much gravitas as she can to the underdeveloped role of Lucy’s intimidating art gallery mentor. Despite delivering some fantastic rom-com charisma in last year’s Brittany Runs A Marathon, Utkarsh Ambudkar is stuck playing a nothing character here, even when Max finds a way back into Lucy’s life. And though former Stranger Things bully Dacre Montgomery proves to be a master of the all-important lovelorn rom-com “look,” Nick never rises above generic heartthrob status.
That there’s an air of predictability to The Broken Hearts Gallery isn’t inherently a problem. Romantic comedies don’t need surprise to thrive. But the best ones find original details and detours while charting a path to happily ever after. Apart from its titular art exhibit, The Broken Hearts Gallery struggles to do that. Its affable characters, charming performances, and well-meaning message never quite gel into something greater than the sum of their parts. It’s not a bad romantic comedy; it’s just not a particularly great one either. Indeed, given that The Broken Hearts Gallery is exactly the sort of low-stakes character-centric romance that plays just as well (if not better) at home, it’s curious that Sony has insisted on releasing it in theaters in the midst of a pandemic. The Broken Hearts Gallery may feature a timely salute to the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of community, but it hardly feels like urgent theatrical viewing.