The current resurgence in romantic comedies has come mainly via streaming services, especially Netflix, which has developed a familiar house style with pleasant, engaging movies like Set It Up and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. So it’s a little odd to see small-scale romantic comedy The Broken Hearts Gallery get a full theatrical release, particularly during such turbulent times for movie theaters. Its production values may be slightly higher, but Broken Hearts would be perfectly at home alongside Netflix’s rom-com lineup, and that’s not a bad thing. This is a movie that will probably find its true audience when people can watch it at home, cuddled up on their couches, possibly in their pajamas.
Coziness is an important virtue for main character Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan), a 26-year-old New Yorker whose bedroom still looks like it belongs to a teenage girl. Lucy has a habit of hanging onto souvenirs from every important time in her life, and that includes mementos from all her former boyfriends. When she gets dumped by art world douchebag Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar), she clings to a tie that he’s left behind, like it’s a security blanket. Her roommates and best friends Amanda (Molly Gordon) and Nadine (Phillipa Soo) decide that they’ve had enough of her moping and living in the past, and they demand that she get rid of her collection of ex-boyfriend memorabilia.
As reluctant as Lucy is to let go, she finds new purpose when she jokingly hangs Max’s tie on a wall as if it’s an art exhibit, and soon other people are bringing in objects from their own past relationships to add to the display. The Broken Heart Gallery (for some reason, the name is singular in the actual gallery but plural in the movie’s title) becomes a viral phenomenon, thanks in part to aspiring hotelier Nick (Dacre Montgomery), who gives Lucy space for the gallery inside his under-construction boutique hotel. Right from their early meet-cute, Lucy and Nick’s relationship proceeds exactly according to the rom-com playbook, but there’s something comforting about that predictability when it’s handled well, and writer-director Natalie Krinsky knows how to build an appealing romance.
With her roles in movies like Blockers, Hala and Bad Education, Viswanathan has been a fast-rising star, and Broken Hearts is a fantastic showcase for her talents. She makes Lucy likable even when she’s acting like an idiot, and her charm carries the movie a long way. Krinsky’s writing is sharp, too, with plenty of witty lines that Gordon, Soo and Broad City’s Arturo Castro (as Nick’s best friend) deliver sharply. Montgomery is the weak link in the cast, never a true match for the vibrant Viswanathan, and Nick always comes off as bland compared to Lucy’s energetic quirkiness.
But Lucy is really the main character, and while Nick gets his own minor character development and rudimentary back story, Broken Hearts is mainly about Lucy’s personal growth, of which her relationship with Nick is only one aspect. The movie goes on a little too long, and given how familiar the story is, there’s no need to drag out plot points for which everyone watching knows the outcome. Broken Hearts is also part of the tradition of movies about young people in New York City that have no conception of actual city life or financial struggle, but at this point, that’s just a standard part of the fantasy.
Krinsky explores a few deeper themes about letting go of your past, finding your purpose in life and feeling truly successful, but the pleasures of Broken Hearts are mostly on the surface. As the popularity of all those streaming rom-coms have taught us, though, those surface pleasures are quite appealing when handled well, and that’s exactly what Krinsky pulls off here.