By Mary Sollosi
September 12, 2020 at 08:00 AM EDT
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The return of the romantic comedy continues its steady march with Natalie Krinsky's The Broken Hearts Gallery (now playing in select theaters), which makes use, as they all do, of a few tropes, which makes it easy, as it always is, to locate it among its peers: The Selena Gomez-produced rom-com falls somewhere among Someone Great, How to Be Single, and even HBO's Girls (the influence of which has persisted even as Lena Dunham's star has waned).

The Broken Hearts Gallery does not benefit from comparisons to these other visions of urban millennial messiness (especially Girls, though the diverse film does improve on that series' extreme whiteness), always going for "relatable" over actual authenticity. It's almost saved by the great appeal of star Geraldine Viswanathan, who plays Lucy, a 26-year-old New York gallery girl with a habit of collecting souvenirs from her ex-boyfriends. Despondent after getting dumped by her latest beau (Utkarsh Ambudkar), she meets cute with aspiring hotelier Nick (Stranger Things' Dacre Montgomery) and is inspired to create a "broken hearts gallery" displaying relics of failed relationships in his unfinished boutique hotel.

Krinsky's script would have benefited from a few more passes; the movie wants to be more than a generic rom-com by exploring the painful shadow side to romance, but it's too messy to offer any meaningful observations (not to mention its runtime needs to lose at least 10 minutes, and its plot at least two meandering detours). The obvious lesson in Lucy's gallery ought to be that heartbreak helps make us who we are; while this is explicitly stated at one point (by Bernadette Peters, as a sort of art-world fairy godmother), it hits as a tacked-on, hollow platitude, having little to do with Lucy's hazy emotional journey.

Linda Kallerus/TriStar Pictures

Viswanathan can definitely carry a movie — look to last year's Hala — and she has charm and charisma to spare (though they were put to better use in 2018's Blockers). The actress brings a bright, engaging energy to The Broken Hearts Gallery, but even she can't redeem the incoherently written Lucy, who is best described as a disorienting blend of mismatched clichés about twentysomething women.

She is most vivid, though, when she appears alongside her BFFs, played by Molly Gordon (Booksmart) and Phillipa Soo (Hamilton), and the appealing trio are the film's high point. As the cynical Nick, Montgomery has an easy chemistry with Viswanathan (though the development of their sometimes-baffling dynamic could also use some tightening) and Arturo Castro is funny, too, as his pal Marcos.

Too much feels off. The setting barely resembles New York. The key-to-everything backstories are terribly contrived, the setup of Lucy's failed romance inadequate to buy into what follows. The twin evolutions of Nick and Lucy's passion projects ought to be invigorating, but it's endlessly distracting how the film's definitions of "hotel" and "art gallery" seem to have nothing to do with, you know, our real-world conceptions of those things. Not that stark realism is a requirement for bright and bubbly romantic comedies! But if a film is going to make plot devices out of the difficulty of obtaining bank loans and the accomplishment of attracting tens of thousands of Instagram followers, then an audience's understanding of what merits those things should be relevant.

It doesn't help that Lucy's big idea isn't a novel one, and the notion that her art-world superiors (or just about any city-dwelling millennials) would be deeply impressed by her vision just adds to the general confusion. It feels like a missed opportunity, too, that the film mines no color from the art scene, or that this ostensible comedy makes no attempt to send up that famously rather ridiculous industry. Its bland portrayal doesn't give the movie any texture, but I suppose the complete lack of specificity does allow for maximum relatability — and that's the point, isn't it?

I really wish it weren't. If the movie had just a little bit of truth, it could speak to people without "relatable" pandering about how adulting is hard and men are jerks! It's easy to parade around an ostentatiously broken heart, but that only means anything if it comes with baring a little bit of soul. C-

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