The rom-com is dead! Long live the rom-com!
As genres go, romantic comedies have been deemed to have lost all signs of life more times than a heartsick man or woman has rushed to the airport at the last minute in a blind, desperate panic, eager to tell their one true love that they are, in fact, their one true love.
The truth is, of course, that, like all genres, romantic comedies wax and wane in creativity and power and not every year is going to be the year they shine.
Interestingly in a year where a great deal has gone sour or seemed to be permanently off the boil, romantic comedies might be doing just fine if the Natalie Krinsky-written and directed film, The Broken Hearts Gallery is any guide.
The directorial debut for this promising talent, The Broken Hearts Gallery is one of those sublimely perfect joys that make you believe, if not in love (though how could you not unless your heart is made of concrete?), then in smart, snappy, supremely clever dialogue, exquisitely good comic timing and characters who are so vividly alive and enjoyable to be with that you’d be happy to sit down and have a drink or two when the movie is over.
There is a vivaciousness to the film from start to finish that infuses many of the near-obligatory rom-com building blocks that make it up with a freshness and zestful originality that makes you glad you ventured out into the hard cold wilds of 2020 cinema for a romantic treat.
It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion when a drunk and dispirited Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan) mistakenly gets into Nick’s (Dacre Montgomery) car thinking he’s her Uber ride that they will bond, become friends and fall delightfully in love, but it’s the way that Krinsky makes this happen, and the sparkling performances that underpin it that turn a cliche into something that feels like fresh and wonderful nascent love happening right before you.
In other words, what could have simply been a ticking of the meet-cute box, becomes something far more, a vividly alive coming together of two people who, though they meet in strange circumstances, need and want each other even if it takes a while for them to realise that.
It helps too that the chemistry between Viswanathan and Montgomery is a palpable, living entity, almost leaping off screen with its crackling energy and sheer delightfulness.
It honestly feels at times like we are watching two actual people fall in love, or in the early stages of the film, bond like crazy, the connection between growing and forming like it would between two actual people.
Granted there is, by genre necessity, a heightened sense of realness to the process, but even allowing for how two seemingly broke people can afford to do and buy as much stuff as they do, and have the time to do the sorts of things we mere 9-to-6 could but dream of doing with our limited free time, it does feel joyfully, infectiously authentic.
Well, as authentic as rom-coms get, and let be fair, who really wants everything to get too real?
We are, after all, living in a world where a big city resident would kick another stranger out of their car if they stepped inside it regardless of the innocence of the action, and where repeated meetings would be seen as stalker-y behaviour rather than an endearing set of coincidental and relationship enhancing accidents.
Thankfully, we are inhabiting, if only for 108 minutes, the postcard-perfect world of The Broken Hearts Gallery where drunken mistakes might cost you a job but not a long term career (the gallery reference comes from Lucy’s nascent role as an art gallery curator assistant) and where fierce misunderstandings don’t end so much as temporarily interrupt things with happiness, the happily-ever-after kind so beloved of Disney-esque fairytales and Hallmark Christmas films, almost always guaranteed.
In fact, it is guaranteed – this is a rom-com after all.
But oh, the fun that Krinsky, Viswanathan, Montgomery and a talented supporting cast of BFFs have getting us to the point of eternal romantic happiness and bliss.
Scene after gloriously well-realised scene is full of whippet-smart dialogue, delivered by Viswanathan particularly, with a jaunty edge so playful and lovably quirky that you begin memorising the lines in the vain hope you might one day be as clever and witty.
Another appealing aspect of The Broken Hearts Gallery is that it doesn’t rely for humour, dubious in intent and execution as it that approach is, on its lead characters to be klutzy, hopeless human beings who cannot get their act together.
Both Lucy and Nick are very normal – again, rom-com heightened normal but normal enough nonetheless that they don’t feel like cliches walking – people who are trying to realise their dreams, professional and personal and who find themselves getting stymied despite their best efforts.
So, while the usual setbacks and misunderstandings occur, the kind that are the lifeblood of rom-coms and have been since time immemorial, there’s still an expectation that Lucy and Nick, the former especially, will be able to work things in time for the requisite happy ending.
Rather pleasingly too, Lucy isn’t reliant on Nick for any of her professional success or wider happiness; it is Lucy, with some help from someone else admittedly, who manages to navigate her way out of her career doldrums and Lucy who proves key to some other key narrative steps forward.
She is the driver of the storyline, vivaciously outgoing, smart and highly resourceful, and while she has flaws like all of us, they are not the terminal kind and she manages to rise above them and move on, again much like any normal person would.
Yes, we all know no normal person could afford a lavishly big bedroom in a nice apartment block with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge or launch a full restoration of a hotel on a grandmother’s inheritance (it’s in this hotel, by the way that Lucy, who has kept all the detritus of past relationships as emotionally macabre mementoes, begins her unique new gallery of people’s romantic remnants), but that matters not in the world of a rom-com as perfectly and lustrously illustrated as this one.
The Broken Hearts Gallery is fantastical and grounded, loved-up and antsy, hilarious and sobering, and in all the right ways and measures that a good rom-com should be, making it a modern classic that is bolstered by sublimely wonderful performances, a sense of groundedness rare in the genre and dialogue and narrative pacing (with added videos from the broken hearted that are a delight in themselves) so perfect that while Lucy and Nick are falling in love, you will be falling in love with them which is not a bad way to spend 108 minutes in anyone’s book.