In the 2019 meta charmer “Isn’t It Romantic,” Rebel Wilson’s Natalie is a cynic who despises rom-coms. But after Natalie is knocked unconscious, she awakens in a fantasy world straight out of a romantic comedy, from meet-cutes to an obligatory karaoke scene to our heroine learning what you’ve been looking for your whole life … HAS BEEN RIGHT BY YOUR SIDE ALL ALONG.
Why are we discussing “Isn’t It Romantic” in a review of “The Broken Hearts Gallery”? Well, my fine friend, it’s because the characters in “Gallery” live just around the corner — or more accurately, across the Brooklyn Bridge — from the world of “Romantic.”
“Broken Hearts Gallery” doesn’t employ the conceit of a “Wizard of Oz”-like dream sequence a la “Isn’t It Romantic,” but it embraces just as many rom-com staples in equally self-aware fashion, inviting us to leave plausibility at the door and enjoy unabashedly sentimental, escapist comfort viewing from first-time writer-director Natalie Krinsky, who displays a fine ear for witty dialogue, with the characters often sounding as if they’re in a next-generation reboot of “Sex and the City.”
Geraldine Viswanathan, fresh off her scene-stealing turn as the intrepid high school newspaper reporter in “Bad Education,” gives a knockout performance as Lucy Gulliver, a 26-year-old art gallery assistant who tells her roommates Nadine (Phillipa Soo) and Amanda (Molly Gordon) she’s found true love with Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who’s about a decade older and kind of her mentor and is so grown up he actually cooked her dinner with items from his refrigerator. As Lucy heads off into the day, Nadine says, “She seems so happy.”
Cut to that night, with Lucy looking dazed and devastated after she was dumped by Max and fired from her job in rapid succession. Lucy climbs into the backseat of her Lyft ride and pours her heart out to the driver, who as it turns out isn’t a Lyft driver but a guy named Nick (Dacre Montgomery from “Stranger Things”), who just happened to pull up at the moment Lucy was expecting her ride. (What a cute way for them to meet!)
When Lucy enters the apartment and tells Nadine and Amanda she’s been dumped, they spring into choreographed comfort mode, draping a blanket around Lucy and giving her chips and dip and wine and a DVD copy of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” But despite their best efforts, Lucy holes up in her bedroom for days, surrounded by an alarming number of souvenirs from past romances. She’s a relationship hoarder. That’s weird and borderline creepy, but Lucy is so darn charming and likable and earnest, we just start rooting for her to break free, free from all those ties to her past.
After Lucy has a second chance encounter with Nick at another particularly dramatic moment in her life (what are the odds!), Nick shows Lucy the old YMCA he’s turning into a boutique hotel, telling her, “I’m building a place that feels like the spots I fell in love with when I first moved to New York.” (Kind of hilarious, given Nick appears to be 30, tops, which means his nostalgia dates back all the way to about 2012.)
The work-in-progress hotel becomes the site for Lucy’s impromptu art exhibit: a gallery of objects from fellow “emotional hoarders,” who can finally let go of their unhealthy attachments to items from relationships that have died. The “Broken Heart Gallery” becomes a viral hit and merits a feature in New York magazine, and all of a sudden Lucy’s opportunistic ex-boyfriend Max resurfaces, and we’re like: Come on Lucy! Can’t you see this guy is no good, and your growing friendship with Nick could turn into something more?
Even as “Broken Hearts Gallery” travels down a well-worn path, it retains a certain freshness. The pop culture references are fast and funny, whether it’s Lucy telling a Harvard grad who never stops mentioning she went to Harvard, “Sorry I couldn’t go to an Ivy, I couldn’t pretend to row crew.” Or an art gallery owner played by the one and only Bernadette Peters telling Lucy, “The last time I saw you was like hearing Brad Pitt talk about architecture. It just went on and on and ON …”
Phillipa Soo (Broadway’s Eliza Schuyler in “Hamilton”) kills as Nadine, a self-described “stay at home model” who is an expert at ending relationships. Molly Gordon is equally funny as Amanda, who has an extremely dark bent and a very strange and yet loving relationship with a boyfriend (Nathan Dales) who almost never speaks. Dacre Montgomery as Nick gives a selfless and likable performance in a role that often requires him to simply hang in there and provide a well-timed reaction to another Lucy Moment.
“Broken Hearts Gallery” leans on so many of those Lucy Moments to carry the day, and Geraldine Viswanathan is always up to the task, whether Lucy is literally pratfalling at the worst possible moment, deflecting a situation with a well-timed quip or allowing herself to consider falling in love again, despite a room filled with painful reminders of relationships gone wrong. It’s a sparkling and winning performance from an actor who has already done fine work but is still in the early stages of a greatly promising career.