The Broken Hearts Gallery isn’t the film I would have chosen for my return to cinemas. No, that would have been Saint Maude, which I should have seen almost six months to the day prior to my screening of The Broken Hearts Gallery. It’s not that this rom-com vehicle from writer-director Natalie Krinsky isn’t in my wheelhouse — it decidedly is — it’s that before six months of exile from the thing I love the most, the patron saint I wanted was one of tingling horror and anticipation. On the other side of quarantine and every other tumultuous affair that’s transpired, it seems the patron saint I might have needed was one of healing.
Enter The Broken Hearts Gallery, a shoddily timelined and inconsistently realized vision of hope. Lucy Gulliver (Geraldine Viswanathan) is a collector. A shameless hoarder of trophies that remind her of life’s moments. People might leave her, but the things that made up their story together never do.
Her lifelong best friends, Amanda (Molly Gordon), a borderline sociopath in a long-term relationship with a mostly silent man, and Nadine (Phillipa Soo), a serial-dating lesbian with a knack for breaking up with people without compromising their affection, watch with apprehension as Lucy spends her days collecting and tumbling headlong into relationships that eventually become relics.
When Lucy’s relationship with Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar) ends, she’s distraught. She makes a public scene and drunkenly stumbles into a not-Uber with a kind man who is no stranger to bad luck (Dacre Montgomery). His name is Nick and he’s pouring the whole of himself into an increasingly unlikely dream. It is in their early exchanges — volleys of context and questions — that the film is at its best.
Similarly, the lived-in relationships between Lucy, Amanda and Nadine are the stuff of honesty and the source of many of the film’s most enjoyable riffs. But when Lucy’s collecting and Nick’s need for funds to finish his passion project of a hotel bring forth The Broken Hearts Gallery, a collection of objects the crystalize the stories of the broken hearted, the film starts to lose naturalistic strengths in favor of the romantic trajectory.
Krinsky understands human moments — that’s undeniable. A quiet moment with a barista and a story of loss will move you with unexpected force. But the moments that should leap off the screen, the grand gestures, the vocalization of emotion, the betrayal are where the illusion shatters. Perhaps it’s that Krinsky values her characters more than her plot devices, but the framework of the story is often visible through all the trappings, and the film is worse for it.
If we hold The Broken Hearts Gallery to a simple task: Make us a bit more cheerful than we were an hour and forty-eight minutes before it started, well it’s a success, but not a resounding one.
Still, sitting in a theater, masked up and distanced from the other groups, but, beside the friends who know my quirks quite as well as Lucy’s friends know hers, I was reminded of the real reason I love the movies. Shared experiences. Were it not the first film back after a long absence, I likely wouldn’t remember The Broken Hearts Gallery, but as it is, I’ll keep in my mind’s collection, a reminder of a time I was happy simply for a taste of what was with friends who will always be.