8/10 As Tenet stalked through the summer searching for a suitable release date, it had a couple of ambitious satellites following it. Unhinged, the premier film for Solstice Studios, was determined to beat the blockbuster back into theaters.
Another studio, No Trace Camping, also sought to take advantage of the droves of people heading back to the movies with just its fifth feature and first in four years, much more traditional blockbuster counterprogramming in The Broken Hearts Gallery.
Brooklyn- After discovering the coworker who’d been unenthusiastically sleeping with her had been dating someone else the whole time, aspiring gallery director Lucy Gulliver (Geraldine Viswanathan) embarrasses herself at a public function, alienating herself from the sewing circle of New York City art galleries and effectively ending her young career. A hoarder and borderline kleptomaniac, Gulliver lives in a pile of keepsakes from various flings over eight years of dating, ranging from gifts to things she bought for herself to stolen articles of clothing to actual pieces of trash.
In yet another drunken stupor, she runs into Nick (Dacre Montgomery), struggling to build a novelty hotel, who inspires her to leave her recent lover’s stolen tie behind. Quickly, the hotel becomes a menagerie of sorrowful souvenirs as passersby, and soon an explosive social media following, bring tokens of their past relationships to let go. The shrine is dubbed The Broken Hearts Gallery.
The movie is writer/director Natalie Krinsky’s own souvenir of a relationship past. Her initial screenplay made the 2011 Hollywood blacklist of highest-regarded unproduced scripts, then gathered dust for almost 10 years while she made a name for herself working on Gossip Girl.
It was No Trace Camping’s idea for her to direct, probably so they didn’t have to hire anyone else, and the final product feels a lot like something that was directed by a screenwriter. It’s brimming with what is obviously Krinsky’s and the actors’ personal senses of humor, which are not bad, but that type of comedy isn’t really good enough for movies. Film is a visual medium, and the visuals are what dominate the experience. With scant energy from Alar Kivilo’s cinematography, great dialogue, acting and editing can only carry a project so far.
But Broken Hearts Gallery works as much as it does on the strength of its authenticity. Krinsky was a recently dumped and fired 20-something when she wrote this, and now she’s a successful 30-something who just gave birth to her second child. There’s a world of difference in approaches to the material from her alone. There’s also obviously a great deal of input from the actors, who were carefully selected and allowed to inhabit their roles – I looked for some sort of breakdown for what’s scripted and what’s improvised, but the hardest detail I could find was editor Shawn Paper confirming he had a lot of good off-script material to work with.
A lot of modern comedies try to create entire scenes out of improvisation and fall flat on their faces, but in Broken Hearts Gallery, the improvised dialogue remains grounded and plot-focused. They’re not driving the film, they’re populating it, bringing it to life. Every line is delivered with such comfort, the whole thing feels less like a movie and more like hanging out with some particularly annoying New York friends, which is not the worst thing. It’s delightful and genuine, but also eminently ignorable, even when you’re in the theater with it.
The authenticity of Gulliver, Nick and all their friends isn’t just central to the movie’s quality, it’s central to its story. In its first scenes, when Gulliver sets up her awful night to Nick, everyone is much less genuine. In her telling, every player is a caricature, sarcastically playing out old rom-com norms. As Broken Hearts Gallery transitions from Gulliver’s explicit hindsight to a present-tense neutral perspective, its characters become nuanced and uncertain, and Gulliver begins her own arc from seeing people in terms of tropes to seeing them as full, flawed people. Even her own tropey self expands from a naïve, easily lovestruck young woman into someone driven by a deep fear of losing her identity in death.
There’s a lot to like about The Broken Hearts Gallery. It’s one of those rare movies that gets stronger as it goes along, lighthearted but with fully invested characters. It’s not the best at anything, it doesn’t need to be – it’s just happy being what it is.
While I mostly ignored Broken Hearts Gallery from within the theater, most moviegoers ignored it from without. It opened at no. 4 with less than a sixth of what Tenet made, which apparently wasn’t nearly enough itself.
It was too early. Studios, most significantly Warner Bros. itself, are pushing their post-Tenet releases back even further out – Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile is the next major release at Oct. 23 for the moment, but we’ll see. I don’t think the sky is falling to nearly the extent that’s being reported, but we’ll talk about that in further detail in a few days here.