The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy

         Although queer cinema has become a recognized force in the filmmaking
 world, most major studios still shy away from  supporting films that are
 completely set in a gay or lesbian milieu. The last major studio film to do so
 was the 1970 film adaptation of Mart Crowley's
 which was released by 20th Century-Fox. I am not talking about films that
 feature a gay protagonist in a predominantly heterosexual story (such as
MAKING LOVE, which was also a Fox release, or PHILADELPHIA which was
 about the effect of AIDS more than about gay life). While the independent
 world has picked up the slack (and produced some fine films), the studios
 have been woefully silent. So, Sony Pictures Classics deserves a cheer for
 funding Greg Berlanti's feature directorial debut,
 A ROMANTIC COMEDY. After its debut at Sundance, the film went on to play
 the gay and lesbian film festival circuit before making its theatrical bow. All
 along the way, it has met with generally positive notices and that's quite as
 it should be.
 divertissement that should please everyone but the most ardent homophobe.

         While some have drawn comparisons between Crowley's bitchy landmark
 comedy-drama and Berlanti's film, the real antecedent is George Cukor's 1939
THE WOMEN. Berlanti, a writer-producer on the popular teen TV drama
   DAWSON'S CREEK, focuses more on the universal aspects of friendship and
 relationships than on any "gay" agenda. The screenwriter-director looked to
 his own life for inspiration and this low-key but entertaining film focuses on
 how gays and lesbians use their relationships -- from lovers to friends --
 to forge nontraditional families.

         At the center of the film is Dennis (Timothy Olyphant), a 28-year-old
 aspiring photographer, and unofficial leader of a group of West Hollywood
 denizens. Among his circle of pals are Benji (Zach Braff), a bleached-blond
 party guy, Patrick (Ben Weber), an average-looking guy with a cynical sense
 of humor, the neurotic grad student Howie (Matt McGrath) who engages in an
 on-again, off-again relationship with Marshall (Justin Theroux), Taylor (Billy
 Porter), an excitable drama queen -- and the only person of color -- and Cole
 (Dean Cain), a great-looking actor whom the rest wish they could emulate.
 Most of the group also work at a restaurant run by Jack (John Mahoney) and
 play on a softball team that Jack sponsors (called "The Broken Hearts Club").
 When Cole introduces the naive Kevin (Andrew Keegan), who is struggling
 with his sexual identity, into their circle, Dennis takes it upon himself to mentor
 the younger man and in the process begins to question his own life and
 his choices.

         Berlanti gives each of the members of the "club" a crisis: Taylor's
 long-term relationship collapse, Howie and Marshall struggle with their
 relationship, Benji falls in with a faster crowd, Patrick's lesbian sister asks
 him to become a sperm donor and Cole gets his acting break and Jack suffers
 a tragedy. For Dennis, it becomes a matter of what he is going to do with
 his life. Although some of these story lines are more interesting than others,
 Berlanti manages to juggle them all and elicits mostly good performances
 from the entire cast.

         Olyphant dominates the film and believably captures a sort-of early
 mid-life crisis. Keegan is terrific as the "newbie" dealing with the pain of
 first love. Mahoney -- best known as Martin Crane on the sitcom
 offers a nice turn and there's good work from Theroux, Braff, Weber and
 Mary McCormack and Nia Long as a lesbian couple. Only Billy Porter cannot
 make more of the somewhat stereotypical role with which he is saddled.
 McGrath, a rather undersung performer, does a great job as Howie, who
 thinks more than he acts while Cain does some of his best screen work as
 the caddish Cole, a typical golden boy who is able to move through life
 trading off on his looks and he is particularly amusing in an early scene
 in which he treats breaking up with someone as an acting exercise.
 Throughout the film, Berlanti employs an amusing lingo (e.g., "meanwhile"
 as a code word for "there's an attractive guy").  

 all audiences and the filmmakers have tried to fashion a tale that has
 broad appeal. Gays and lesbians will still probably appreciate it more as
 it deals with the realities of their world. It's by no means, the best film
 about this milieu (that motion picture remains to be made), but for now,
 it's the best there is.

                                 Rating:                 B-
                                 MPAA Rating:         R
                                 Running time:        94 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.