Let me say it up front: I enjoyed The Broken Hearts Gallery. Go into it with a little patience, and I think you will, too. With that out of the way, I found its central premise a little…off-putting. Unhealthy, even. And maybe that’s just my own weirdness. In my dating life, whenever somebody did me wrong, I took it as an opportunity to grow smarter and move on. I was the Road Runner to their Wile E. Coyote. And that’s not to suggest that I’m made of teflon. I got burned, and it sucked. But I also churned up dust on my way down the road: Meep meep!
Lucy Gulliver (Geradline Viswanathan), the protagonist of Hearts, is the exact opposite of that. Her bedroom is a shambling monument to relationships gone wrong: For every dude who turned out to be a dick, Lucy stashes some weird knick knack to remind her of whatever they had. As the film begins, she is dewey-eyed over Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a guy she works with at a posh NYC art gallery. Max ain’t the nicest bloke in the world, and Lucy’s besties are already taking bets when he will become just another memento to boyfriends past.
Cut to the next scene, and Lucy is stumbling through Manhattan, bawling her eyes out. Mon Dieu! Max has shown his true colors and left Lucy broken-hearted. She spots an idling sedan, assumes it’s her Lyft, and crawls into the back seat. Turns out, the driver is Nick (Dacre Montgomery), who’s just some rando in a parked car. Lucy’s too busy blathering to hear Nick telling her who he is, so he eventually gives up and drives her home.
At this point, the movie is in serious trouble on two fronts: For starters, Nick and Lucy just had one of those Meet Cutes you only see in contrived rom-coms. Scenes like this take us one step closer to having scripts written with nothing but heart emojis. Even more troubling, Lucy isn’t a strong protagonist up to this point. She’s obnoxious and toxic. When she resolves to give all her trinkets back to her ex-boyfriends, the inventory is pretty weird: Toe-nail clippings. A naked doll. A condom. One guy says he broke up with her over this wacky hoarding trait, and I totally see what he’s saying. I’d be in Road Runner mode, as well. We’re barely twenty minutes into Hearts, and I’m not really rooting for Lucy to find anyone. Not a good sign for a date movie.
Thankfully, things get better as the story progresses. The second act shifts away from Lucy’s obsessiveness, instead focusing on her irrepressible optimism and tender heart. Naturally, she falls for Nick, and his personality forms a complimentary contrast to hers: He’s a minimalist in body and spirit who uses cynicism as a kind of flimsy armor. Viswanathan and Montgomery form an instant chemistry that makes both characters more appealing.
The movie also benefits from giving Lucy and Nick a project: He’s opening a boutique hotel, but the renovations are going like a lead balloon. She instantly offers to help, initially irritating Nick. Of course, her cockeyed energy wins him over, plus she gives him the opportunity to go viral: Lucy starts unloading her keepsakes at the hotel, thus creating an art gallery for lost love. Her story spreads like wildfire across social media, and soon other scorned lovers are bringing their islanded trinkets and telling the stories that go with them. (The film deploys these anecdotes via When Harry Met Sally cutaways, only some of which manage to be mildly amusing.)
Nothing in Hearts will break the rom-com mold we all know and love: Lucy and Nick squabble right into each others arms. They have plucky best friends who fire off sassy one-liners and provide shoulders upon which to sob. (I will say that Phillipa Soo and Molly Gordon make the most of their ride-or-die roles, even threatening to steal few scenes from the leads.) There are bitchy bosses and snarky exes. You know plot shenanigans will threaten to rip these two apart, just as true love is taking root. Hell, this formula dates back before Harry and Sally, all the way to Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.
Here’s the crazy bit: The formula is still around because it still works. As long as there are soft-hearted fools–like me–who want to watch good people find each other, there’s still gonna be a market for movies like this. Viswanathan and Montgomery are a cute couple, and the screenwriters supply them with bursts of sharp dialogue. (They even supply a heartwarming explanation for Lucy’s hoarding, although it comes a smidge late in the story.)
I don’t use sports metaphors often, so I think I’m due: Even though The Broken Hearts Gallery starts in the sand trap, it still finds a way to eagle the hole. This is an above average romantic comedy, perfect for any date night. It might be stickier than a melted Snickers, but sometimes that’s exactly what ya need.
109 min. PG-13. VoD.