“The Broken Hearts Gallery” hits all the stops on the road to romantic-comedy gold: a messy breakup early in the movie; an ingenious scheme to channel a woman’s anger into a glam project; and a hot new man she has no interest in . . . at first.
So, why did it take the exit onto Meh Boulevard?
The film’s worst offense is that it works way too hard for it to be a light watch. The viewing experience is like wondering if you should laugh while a clown struggles to bench-press 600 pounds. The actors’ facial expressions are huge, and the overwrought punchlines feel fitted for a laugh track. First-time writer-director Natalie Krinsky’s background is in writing for TV shows such as “Gossip Girl” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” and the hammy energy of the small screen spills all over her movie debut.
That said, “Broken Hearts” is blessed with a nifty premise and an appealing star. Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan) is a New York art gallery assistant (to an unforgivably misused Bernadette Peters) who, like most young New Yorkers, dreams about the day she’ll be done paying her dues. Unfortunately, she has a setback at her artist boyfriend’s gallery opening, when she catches him in the crowd getting handsy with another woman.
Lucy’s furious breakdown becomes a viral meme.
“Jane Austen didn’t write about polyamory!” she screams before delivering the movie’s funniest line: “It was ‘Emma,’ not ‘Emmas’!”
After some wine-soaked advice from her besties/roommates, Nadine (“Hamilton’s” Phillipa Soo) and Amanda (Molly Gordon), Lucy has a breakthrough: She will start her own gallery, filled with memorabilia from people’s past relationships. The city’s miserable singletons can use the space to let go, once and for all.
Her novel plan leads to some goofy moments, like when a spurned woman shows up with her ex’s still-smelly leg cast. But overall, the resulting scenarios are never as delightful or as poignant as the film thinks they are. They straddle a dull middle ground that rarely yields any meaty emotions or satisfying jokes. They’re polite.
Helping Lucy along is a new guy in her life, Nick (Dacre Montgomery of “Stranger Things”), who gradually becomes more than a business partner. It’s a relief to see Montgomery without his 1980s mullet. He wears it so confidently on TV, I got worried it was real. The pair’s connection could be deeper, but you don’t doubt the actor’s sincerity.
Despite its shortcomings, the film is a swell vehicle for Viswanathan, an actress who is effortlessly charming, even if she has been directed to go overboard here. She’s made a few prior films — most notably “Blockers” — but this is her biggest turn in the spotlight yet. The actress has the unteachable relatability of Tina Fey and Lena Dunham, and will surely have more projects built around her talent.
Looking forward to Viswanathan finding “the one” soon.