“The Broken Hearts Gallery” exists in a promising position: Though it’s the debut project of director and writer Natalie Krinsky, an impressive portfolio of cast and crew — including a publicized executive producer credit for Selena Gomez — has marked the pop art-infused romantic comedy as an unexpectedly anticipated project.
The film features rising comedy star Geraldine Viswanathan as Lucy, a compulsive collector and aspiring art curator with a less-than-stellar romantic history. After her latest breakup with a coworker leaves her unemployed and heartbroken, she runs into Nick (Dacre Montgomery), a handyman working to restore an old hotel into a trendy New York hangout spot. The two become partners in both business and romance as Lucy opens a pop-up gallery for romantic souvenirs in the hotel.
Krinsky certainly has a knack for directing, and it shows in the film’s stylistic confidence. From its technicolor lighting to its depiction of New York’s eccentric, social media driven nightlife and art scene, “The Broken Hearts Gallery” finds much of its charm in just how precisely it captures a very particular aesthetic. It’s a film reminiscent of kitchy neon signs, at home in old art deco buildings turned into quirky pop-up galleries. Krinsky’s visual direction is incredibly precise — akin to a Museum of Ice Cream, only in filmic form.
But underneath this presentation, “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is a remarkably conventional rom-com — so much so that it’s often hard to pinpoint precisely what makes it feel so off. A rather safe bet may blame the screenplay, which stumbles from one obligatory genre beat to the next without ever really feeling satisfying. Lucy’s first act dump is painfully overdone, while her meet cute with Nick is contrived even by genre standards. The film’s later material — which attempts to bring some depth to the couple’s dynamic but is ultimately too muddled to do so — is similarly underwhelming.
Another explanation could lie in the film’s brand of comedy. More often than not, its jokes stick: Viswanathan and the rest of the female supporting cast are particularly hilarious. The dynamic between Lucy and her friends is equal parts underhanded and aggressively supportive, and their banter is easily the film’s highlight. Though Krinsky has a refreshingly clear understanding of how to write these female friendships, it only makes it more disappointing that this same level of chemistry doesn’t exist between its romantic leads.
While entertaining on their own, Lucy and Nick simply aren’t that funny together. Viswanathan’s bombastic, attention-grabbing comedic style often falls flat paired with Montgomery’s understated, everyman shtick — a role in which he often seems out of his comfort zone. Once the two exhaust the most obvious jokes baked into their character gimmicks, they find little else to do to hold the audience’s attention.
This only exacerbates the weakness of the film’s romantic arc. Though “The Broken Hearts Gallery” sometimes tries to play its own awkwardness off as a subversion of expected rom-com beats, this self-awareness only makes it more jarring when the film never actually ends up subverting them. The couple never deviate from a strictly predictable path: They easily navigate love triangles and resolve tension almost as quickly as it arises, and their inevitable happy ending is painfully predictable and conventional.
It’s easy to note the strengths of “The Broken Hearts Gallery.” Its female cast possesses incredible chemistry, and its tone and stylistically direction are refreshingly fully realized. At the same time however, it’s difficult not to leave the film feeling underwhelmed. “The Broken Hearts Gallery” doesn’t suffer as a result of any explicit mistakes beyond muddled pacing and a mixed bag of jokes, but rather as a result of its hesitance to take risks or creative liberties in terms of the genre.
There’s still fun to be had with the film’s very particular brand of loud but charming humor, and the art direction is sure to evoke bubbly nostalgia for its target demographic. But as a film, “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is a museum of tired romantic tropes. Though its positive marks occasionally outweigh its negatives and may indeed mark a promising career for its debut curator, “The Broken Hearts Gallery” leaves little more impression than a flashy pop-up.