In the pre-pandemic times, the romantic comedy was quickly becoming a forgotten genre, unless you counted films that pop up on streaming services and skip theaters entirely. The days of rom-coms starring Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts grossing over $100 million at the box office seem to be long behind us, and those movies are just on Netflix now. Well, I’m happy to say that we have a movie like that in American movie theaters right now, and it’s a real winner.
The Broken Hearts Gallery follows Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan), a young New Yorker who has a habit of collecting mementos of previous relationships. This could be a small bag push-pinned to her wall that only contains a pair of shoelaces, or several doorknobs laid out in a row on her nightstand. After a particularly bad day, she gets into Nick (Dacre Montgomery)’s car thinking it’s the Lyft she ordered, and he provides a listening ear and drives her home. He owns a building in Brooklyn that he’s turning into a boutique hotel. As their romance blossoms, they decide to go into business together, opening The Broken Heart Gallery, an art instillation in his hotel where people can bring tokens of past relationships and tell the story that accompanies them.
Reading that paragraph back, there are so many things about this film that feel like the setup for a horror movie. The leading lady is a kleptomaniac who gets into a strange man’s car. But, because this is a rom-com, everyone is eccentric and cute and lovable. But I’ll let this go because the movie has the self-awareness to call itself out for this several times.
There are plenty of reasons why this film works, but it works primarily because of Geraldine Viswanathan’s charming and energetic performance. After becoming a name to watch in films like Blockers and Bad Education, she proves herself a very capable leading lady. She’s the eternal rom-com lead – plucky, quirky and a total live wire. She sells the more quiet and emotional moments and the big gags in a way that feels totally effortless.
She has a bright, magnetic chemistry with Dacre Montgomery, who is also doing lovely work here. He also feels like the timeless rom-com lead, endless charm and killer smile. And somehow, the way the viewer watches these well-matched leads fall in love onscreen feels entirely genuine. Also not critically important, but I wanted to point out that these are both Australian actors doing perfect American accents.
The film has a remarkable supporting cast as well. Molly Gordon and Hamilton’s Philippa Soo play Lucy’s roommates and best friends, and they bring so much more to what could be throwaway roles. The relationship these three young women have has a specificity and a language to it that makes everything feel authentic. Also, imagine my surprise to see Broadway legend Bernadette Peters pop up in this film as Lucy’s boss. I gasped when she appeared onscreen for the first time. She’s not in much of it, but she’s dressed in impeccable costumes and has some terrific zingers.
Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Natalie Krinsky, The Broken Hearts Gallery avoids a number of common first-feature problems and feels like it was made by someone who’s done this kind of thing many times before. The script is sharp and consistently funny and the direction is, well, good enough. It’s admittedly kind of formulaic and predictable, but that’s something I didn’t mind at all. The Broken Hearts Gallery is evidence of a tried-and-true formula still working in every possible way when it’s done well. And it’s the exact kind of feel-good escapism we need right now.