What’s it like to be a 20-something gay man in Los Angeles? At least first-time director/writer Greg Berlanti picked a locale for his niche film in which there is a significant-sized niche to appreciate it. If it were about trendy young homosexuals in Duluth, I doubt even gay men could relate to it.
“The Broken Hearts Club” is an earnest, inconsequential romantic comedy that wins most of its points for sincerity — Berlanti clearly meant every word of it, no matter how uneven it may be — and for treating gay romance as a mainstream topic, not some straight-to-video curiosity with a bunch of no-name actors.
Our cast of bitchy, melodramatic characters (I’m told this is one of the more realistic aspects) includes the following: Patrick (Ben Weber), an average-looking guy who wishes he were beautiful, whose lesbian sister wants him to be the donor for her partner’s artificial insemination; Benji (Zach Braff), who may go to desperate lengths to get a boyfriend; Howie (Matt McGrath), who can’t seem to stop going out with his ex-boyfriend (Justin Theroux); Taylor (Billy Porter), the swishiest of the bunch who is a wreck after his boyfriend breaks up with him over the phone; and Cole (Dean Cain), a dumb pretty boy actor who is the most well-adjusted of the bunch largely because he’s too stupid to know how absurd his life is.
Then there’s Dennis (Timothy Olyphant), a budding photo-journalist who is tired of one-night stands and relationships that go nowhere. He wants to let someone into his heart, and there’s a chance it could be Kevin (Andrew Keegan), a “newbie” (that is, someone just out of the closet) whom Benji meets at his mall job.
They all hang out at a club called Jack’s, owned by elderly gay Jack (John Mahoney), and play for the restaurant’s softball team. Their lives constitute a sunny gay soap opera, where the emotions are played on the surface and where the drama is plentiful.
It seems likely that this is a fairly accurate depiction of urban gay pop culture, with characters who are retro-hip (they make references to Rice-a-Roni and Albert on “Little House on the Prairie”) and who really do call each other “girlfriend.” It could be said that the film plays into common stereotypes — they’re all terrible at softball, they watch “Beaches” and “Steel Magnolias,” etc. — but I would gently suggest that most stereotypes exist for a reason: because they have some basis in truth. The real-life gay people who don’t act like this will have to take it up with the ones who do if they don’t like being portrayed this way.
The Big Moments in the film are from Screenwriting 101: To make characters re-examine their lives, have one of them die and another one get sick (or, if it’s about young people, make it a drug overdose). For the most part, these characters are gay, and nothing else: Homosexuality is their identity. Their personalities are not especially distinguishable from one another, and the “insight” into being gay in the ’00s is limited to observations like, “What is it with lesbians and candles?” Berlanti may have aimed too high to have an ensemble this large tackle so many things at once.
That said, most of the acting is pretty good, and the dialogue is often caustically funny. The campy energy of the cast buoys things up, and the characters are likable, if not awfully well-drawn.
Will non-gays enjoy the film? They probably won’t mind it, as long as they can handle seeing two men make out, which happens a few times here. No agendas, controversial issues or political hot buttons come up; gay marriage is not even mentioned, and AIDS comes up only once, in passing. This is L.A., after all, where it’s always bright and sunny.
B- (; )