The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy
The script for The Broken Hearts Club arose from writer/director Berlanti’s frustration that there weren’t any films being made which showed the normal lives of gay men. In the movie, he leaves the luckless Howie (McGrath)—a nice boy, but a homely boy in a land of Greek gods—to explain:
There isn’t a movie in the cinema canon that depicts a gay character that we would aspire to be. What are our options? Noble, suffering AIDS victims, the friends of noble suffering AIDS victims, sex addicts, common street hustlers and the newest addition to the lot: stylish confidantes to lovelorn women. Just once I would like to see someone who is not sick, hasn’t been laid in about three months and is behind on his student loans.
And this is exactly what you get: a Big Chill-light, if you will, following the lives and loves of a group of gay male 20-somethings in Los Angeles who all work or hang out at Jack’s, the bar-restaurant owned by John Mahoney’s character, and play for the Broken Hearts, the worst softball team in history.
Dennis (Oliphant) has no problem attracting men, but he really wants a decent relationship, so he decides to give up on sex for a while, a sentiment is totally alien to his best friend, Cole (Lois and Clark’s very own Superman, Dean Cain). Cole is the real heart-breaker of the group, an actor who’s given to using lines from his movies to dump his short-term flings. Meanwhile, both of them have designs on Kevin (Andrew Keegan), who’s still in the process of coming out.
To go into all the romantic machinations of the main characters would take some time but, suffice to say, that no-one except Howie’s sister and her girlfriend (McCormack and Long) start happy and stay happy. For everyone else, there’s a journey taking place. Some journeys are harder and funnier than others.
You can see the attraction of Broken Hearts Club to the cast. It’s the sort of ensemble piece that actors love and, besides, playing gay was to the 2000s what being in a Disease of the Week Movie was in the 1980s: every young actor must go through this rite of passage to show their range.
Of course, the irony of the situation is that, while the cast are falling over themselves to play gay, no self-respecting big Hollywood star would ever admit to actually being gay. In the movie, it’s made quite clear that Cole and his big action star lover can’t ever let their orientation be known. There’s no big issue made of this fact, it’s just presented as part of the way things are for gay male actors.
Considering that this is a small-scale gay movie, it’s perhaps surprising that there’s such a well-recognised cast, even if most of them are familiar from TV, not the big screen. The sprawling cast can make the film feel over-crowded, to the point that I’d actually forgotten that Zach Braff was even in it until he showed up in that hospital bed with the worst dye job in history, telling us that drugs are a bad thing.
While Berlanti was trying to go for normal, everyday life here, it means that there’s no real dramatic tension to move the whole thing along. Despite some decent one-liners, everyone is so nice to each other that the whole thing feels a little twee. The women get almost no notice in the film, as if they’re a minor after-thought.
And the soundtrack.... While I appreciate that the producers were looking for something new yet still gay enough, there really was no need to have dreary indie band covers of timeless Carpenters classics. Just use the originals.
On the bright side, most of the cast provide strong performances without descending too far into cliché. We should never be surprised to see John Mahoney give a good account of himself, but to see such fine work from noted right-wing TV actor Cain was an unexpected surprise. Matt McGrath also stands out as Howie.
I’m not sorry that I watched it, but I wouldn’t watch it again.