Geraldine Viswanathan, the breakout star of Blockers and Miracle Workers, fulfills her destiny as a romantic heroine in The Broken Hearts Gallery. A classic rom-com with judicious, 21st century updates, The Broken Hearts Gallery is about the irrepressibly cute Lucy (Viswanathan), a kleptomaniac who hoards trinkets from past relationships (and, apparently, table salt from every restaurant she visits). Lucy is the ubiquitous kind of heroine that once helped run rom-coms into the ground—whimsical, annoying, self-centered, motor-mouthed. In the wrong hands, she would be intolerable and entirely unsympathetic. But Viswanathan has so much presence and such spark, she breathes life and believability into Lucy. Her whimsy is less forced cuteness and more emotional armor; she IS annoying but so loyal it’s impossible not to like her anyway, and so great is Viswanathan’s charm that even the self-interest ultimately becomes more a function of being the heroine of a rom-com—where everything MUST revolve around her—than an actual character flaw.
In a classic rom-com intro, Lucy gets dumped and fired—publicly—all in one night. Mistaking a car idling at the car for an Uber, she thus enters the life of Nick (Dacre Montgomery, showing a completely different side from Stranger Things), a down-on-his-luck hotelier. Rom-com heroes no longer work in publishing, and we’re not settling for mere bartenders anymore, now rom-com heroes must be building boutique hotels in Brooklyn. Lucy is still a gallerist who, somehow, affords to live in Brooklyn—heroines with impossible jobs and apartments are still a genre staple—but there have been a few judicious changes to the formula to allow for texting and social media, which actually makes the popularity of Lucy’s DIY art installation feasible. You see, inspired one day, she tacks a tie from her awful ex (Utkarsh Ambudkar) to the wall in Nick’s hotel, and accidentally starts a public art installation dedicated to letting go of emotional baggage.
Written and directed by Natalie Krinsky (Gossip Girl and Grey’s Anatomy), Gallery never gets in its own way. It walks right up to the line of twee but stops short, grounded in Viswanathan’s control of the screen and the genuine chemistry between her and Montgomery. Rom-coms live and die by the chemistry of their leads, and here it is totally believable and grows organically from friends to more than that. The circumstances that bring them together are totally contrived, but once they start hanging out, you totally buy into their budding friendship and latent attraction. Also easily believable are Lucy’s friendships, with macabre lawyer Amanda (Molly Gordon, Good Boys) and inevitable model Nadine (Hamilton’s Phillipa Soo, also charming enough to power her own rom-com). Gordon and Soo are good enough to merit more things to do, but this is a rom-com about Lucy and Nick, so the friends are the side salad, not the whole meal.
Gallery feels like a throwback to the best rom-coms of the 1990s, when a sparkling heroine bounces off a surly dude and they overcome every minor, easily resolved conflict to be together. There are montages, inconvenient girlfriends, a desperate run-across-town, a grand romantic gesture, and even karaoke. All the boxes are ticked, but the chemistry between Viswanathan and Montgomery keep it fresh and lively. And Viswanathan is such a great screen heroine, she could make anything watchable. Give her something as solidly decent as The Broken Hearts Gallery, and she will make that material sing. She does it here, her breeziness and charisma propelling the movie into instant comfort-watch status. The Broken Hearts Gallery is for anyone who has missed classic rom-coms with their contrivances and chemistry, featuring yet another spectacular performance from Geraldine Viswanathan.
The Broken Hearts Gallery was reviewed from a screening link. It will be in theaters from September 11.