Review: ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery, starring Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, Phillipa Soo, Arturo Castro and Bernadette Peters

September 11, 2020

by Carla Hay

Geraldine Viswanathan and Dacre Montgomery in “The Broken Hearts Gallery” (Photo by Linda Kallerus/TriStar Pictures)

“The Broken Hearts Gallery”

Directed by Natalie Krinsky

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery” features a cast of Asians and white people (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 26-year-old woman, who’s been dumped by an ex-boyfriend and fired from her art-gallery job, tries to get over her problems by helping an aspiring hotel owner decorate his boutique hotel, even though her personal style clashes with his.

Culture Audience: “The Broken Hearts Gallery” will appeal primarily to viewers who like formulaic romantic comedies that have people with mostly relatable personalities.

Molly Gordon, Geraldine Viswanathan and Phillipa Soo in “The Broken Hearts Gallery” (Photo by George Kraychyk/TriStar Pictures)

The romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is so unapologetically mushy and predictable that it would be absolutely a chore to sit through this movie if it didn’t have its share of charming moments. Much of the credit goes to star Geraldine Viswanathan, whose quick-witted comedic timing and her keen ability to bring a sense of fun to the story end up saving what could have been a mostly forgettable and cliché film.

“The Broken Hearts Gallery” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Natalie Krinsky, who previously worked as an occasional writer on “Gossip Girl,” the primetime soap opera about upper-class young people in New York City. “Broken Hearts Gallery” is also set in New York City, but the young people at the center of the story are definitely less privileged than the wealthy scions of “Gossip Girl.”

Lucy Gulliver (played by Viswanathan), the story’s 26-year-old protagonist, is an assistant at an upscale and trendy art gallery. She has dreams of owning her own art gallery someday. Lucy lives with her two best friends—sarcastic and bossy Amanda (played by Molly Gordon) and womanizing lesbian Nadine (played by Phillipa Soo)—and they have all been close pals for years.

Amanda is currently a law student, but a running joke in the movie is that she’s always giving unsolicited legal advice, as if she’s already a lawyer. Amanda is also in a relationship with a guy named Jeff (played by Nathan Dales), who is mostly silent and henpecked by Amanda. (When Jeff finally starts talking, it’s one of the funnier parts of the movie.) Meanwhile, Nadine has a thing for dating Russian models, but then she gets bored and usually ends the relationship to move on to her next conquest.

The beginning of the movie shows the trio of gal pals while they were seniors in high school in an unnamed suburb of New York, with Lucy already planning to live in the big city. Lucy has just gotten dumped by a boyfriend, and Amanda and Nadine are comforting her while Lucy is nursing her broken heart. It’s a scenario that gets repeated more than once in the movie.

One of Lucy’s quirks is that she likes to keep mementos and knickknacks, including those that remind of her of ex-boyfriends. She freely admits she’s a pack rat, while some people might describe her collecting habit as hoarding, because she keeps things such as toenail clippings. Her hoarding isn’t at a dangerous level, but it’s odd and more than a little creepy.

Eight years after graduating from high school, Lucy’s life seems to be going fairly well for her. She’s been dating a 35-year-old co-worker named Max Vora (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), who is the gallery’s recently promoted director. Max and Lucy have been keeping their romance somewhat hidden from their colleagues because they don’t want it to be a distraction at work. Lucy gushes about Max to Nadine and Amanda, by describing him as such a perfect romantic boyfriend that he cooks dinner for her. Meanwhile, Nadine and Amanda secretly take bets on how long Lucy’s most recent romance will last.

Lucy idolizes her boss Eva Woolf (played by Bernadette Peters), the gallery owner who named the art gallery after herself. Eva doesn’t have much tolerance for people she thinks are flaky and dumb. You know where this is going, of course. Lucy will make a fool out of herself at work because of something to do with Max. This embarrassing incident happens during a big exhibit opening at the gallery, where Eva, all of the gallery’s employees and many important clients are attendance.

Lucy has been asked to get up on stage in front of the assembled crowd and introduce Max as the gallery’s new director. As she’s about to give her introductory speech, Lucy sees Max canoodling in the audience with a woman whom she recognizes as Dr. Amelia Black (played by Tattiawna Jones), Max’s most recent ex-girlfriend. Lucy has already had too much to drink because she was nervous about making this speech. And so, when Lucy sees Max getting too close this other woman, Lucy goes into a tailspin and has an epic, jealous meltdown in front of the entire audience. As if that weren’t enough, drunken Lucy ends up tripping and falling flat on her face.

As Lucy runs out of the gallery in a humiliated daze, Max follows her outside and explains that Amelia was living in Paris but has recently moved back to New York City. And now, Max tells Lucy that he wants to get back together with Amelia. And there’s more bad news for Lucy: Eva was so mortified by Lucy’s public meltdown that she’s also sent Max to tell Lucy that she’s been fired.

As she’s reeling from this extremely bad night, Lucy just wants to go home, so she gets into a car that she thinks is the rideshare that she had booked. As she starts the tell the driver about her “worst night ever,” the driver repeatedly tells her that he’s not her rideshare driver, but Lucy is so absorbed in her misery that she won’t listen. Finally, the driver, whose name is Nick (played by Dacre Montgomery), decides to placate Lucy and drives her home.

When she gets home, Lucy realizes the man who drove her home isn’t the rideshare driver she booked. She’s once again embarrassed, but she tries to turn it around and make Nick look bad by accusing him of being a creep. She also comments that for all she knows, he could be a serial killer, and now he knows where she lives. Will this be the last time that Lucy sees Nick? Of course not.

In several very contrived situations, Nick just happens to be nearby at the exact moment that a lovelorn Lucy sees Max and makes a pathetic attempt to get Max’s attention. One of those moments is the next time that Lucy and Nick see each other. Lucy has followed Max into a restaurant, where he’s having a dinner date with Amelia. The restaurant hostess tries to block Lucy from going over to the table because Lucy doesn’t have a reservation. And right at that moment, when Amelia is about to act like a psycho ex-girlfriend and charge toward Max, Nick shows up and prevents Lucy from approaching Max, who sees Lucy anyway.

As Nick steers Lucy away from this potentially embarrassing situation for her, she gets very irritated with him and asks Nick if he’s been stalking her. Oh, the irony. Lucy and Nick get to talking, and he tells her a little bit more about himself. He’s trying to fulfill his dream of opening a boutique hotel called the Chloe Hotel. However, what he doesn’t tell her right away and what very few people in his life know is that Nick is almost broke and headed for a possible financial disaster since he poured his life savings into the hotel, which is nowhere near being completed.

One person who knows about Nick’s money problems is his best friend/business partner Marcos (played by Arturo Castro), who hasn’t been paid for a while and has decided to take another job because his wife Randy (played by Megan Ferguson) is pregnant, and they need the money. Marcos has a wry sense of humor, which goes a long way in being a counterbalance to some of the sappier moments of the movie.

Nick shows Lucy the unfinished hotel, which used to be a YMCA building. Lucy has a garbage bag with her that contains several old mementos from her ex-boyfriends, including Max. Nick, who calls her a hoarder, tells Lucy that his style is the complete opposite of hers, because he’s a minimalist. Meanwhile, there’s a large empty picture frame in the hotel that Lucy spontaneously uses to hang up one of the items in the garbage bag: a necktie that used to belong to Max.

And because Lucy is a wannabe art gallery owner. she calls this room in the hotel the Broken Heart Gallery, because of this “art display.” She scrawls a note next to the frame that explains why this necktie is from an ex-love and why it’s being discarded. Not long after that day, Nick tells her that an anonymous person came into the hotel and must have seen this necktie display because the person hung up an item with a note that it’s also from an ex-love.

Lucy takes a photo of this burgeoning art exhibit and posts it on social media. It becomes a such a viral hit that she gets the fundraising idea that can people can start stop by the unfinished hotel to drop off mementos from ex-lovers and leave messages that can be displayed in the Broken Heart Gallery. Visitors can to give donations as part of the gallery exhibit. The idea is the people who contribute to the gallery can get closure from painful breakups, because the gallery displays will be cathartic enough to help them move on.

And when Nick mentions to Lucy that Marcos got another job and the hotel’s interior designer quit, Lucy volunteers to be the hotel’s interior designer. Nick says no, but after much persistence from Lucy and much hemming and hawing from Nick, she ends up being the hotel’s interior designer. Nick and Lucy don’t really discuss payment for this job, but even if they did, it’s very easy to see how this movie is going to end.

Before that happens, there are the usual shenanigans in romantic comedies that have this type of would-be couple. “The Broken Hearts Gallery” uses the old “opposite attract” trope as much as possible to show how Lucy and Nick get on each other’s nerves, but they also can’t seem to stay away from each other. Lucy is high-strung and kooky, while Nick is laid-back and analytical. The character of Nick is somewhat generic, and his main purpose in the movie is to play the straight man to Lucy’s wackiness.

Nick and Lucy become platonic friends, but have conflicts with each other, while Lucy puts herself in more embarrassing situations in an effort to get back together with Max. Nick’s and Lucy’s friends (and viewers who’ve seen enough romantic comedies) know where this is all headed. But, of course, the two people who are supposed to end up together are the last people to admit it.

The target audience for “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is underage teenage girls, so things don’t get too raunchy in the movie. Adults watching this film will probably wish that the movie had more mature humor, since too many of the so-called adults in this movie act like they’re still in high school. (To see Viswanathan in a rowdier comedy film, check out 2018’s “Blockers,” where she was a standout in the movie too.)

Lucy is proud of her eccentricities, but some of her irrationally jealous behavior panders to some awful stereotypes about how pathetic and catty women can be when it comes to fighting over an ex-love. Lucy handles love in an uncomfortable and awkward manner that’s sometimes realistic and sometimes too over-the-top. This movie is a romantic comedy, so it isn’t supposed to be about realism all the time.

However, some of the dialogue is absolutely cringeworthy. In a scene where Lucy and Nick have some alone time and open up to each other, Lucy says to him: “We’re good together, you and me. The monster and the human. Humans need monsters to stir things up. And monsters need humans to fix everything they break. It’s just simple science.”

One of the more charming qualities of Lucy is that she’s more optimistic than Nick is about life and how to deal with problems. When more problems start to pile on Nick, he wants to abandon his dream to build the hotel, but Lucy gives him a pep talk and encourages him not to give up so easily. Meanwhile, Nick slowly starts to show that he has a romantic side, which is refreshing to Lucy, who says she’s used to men not being supportive of her and her dreams.

“The Broken Hearts Club” also has a very good supporting cast that makes the material a lot more engaging than it should be. Gordon, Soo and Castro all have moments when they somewhat steal scenes. (Gordon’s comedic timing is the most natural-looking and funniest of the supporting characters.)

And there are a few other supporting characters who are in Nick and Lucy’s world, including an Eva Woolf Gallery co-worker who’s nicknamed Harvard (played by Ego Nwodim), because she’s a know-it-all who likes to brag that she went to Harvard University, and she constantly chastises Lucy about being clueless about life. Celebrity chef Roy Choi has a cameo as himself. Suki Waterhouse plays someone who a past connection to someone in the movie.

“The Broken Hearts Gallery” has the obligatory karaoke scene, which seems to be a staple of every other predictable romantic comedy. There’s also the “big argument” scene, where the would-be couple have an estrangement. There’s absolutely no suspense over whether or not they’ll kiss and make up by the end of the story.

There are a few “surprise” twists to the movie that aren’t shocking because it all just adds up to more schmaltz. “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is not for hardcore cynics, but it’s a predictable and harmless movie that’s made enjoyable mainly because of the winning performance by Viswanathan.

TriStar Pictures released “The Broken Hearts Gallery” in U.S. cinemas on September 11, 2020.

Review: ‘We Are Freestyle Love Supreme,’ starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anthony Veneziale, Christopher Jackson, Thomas Kail, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Bill Sherman and Chris Sullivan

July 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Veneziale, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Andrew Bancroft, Bill Sherman, Christopher Jackson and Arthur Lewis in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

“We Are Freestyle Love Supreme”

Directed by Andrew Fried

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and partially in the United Kingdom, the documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” tells the story of the multiracial musical improvisational group Freestyle Love Supreme, whose most famous member is Tony-winning star Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Culture Clash: The members of Freestyle Love Supreme struggled for years to make a living from their craft, and then the group’s loyalty and work schedules were tested after Miranda and musical director Thomas Kail went on to mega-success with the Tony-winning musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.”

Culture Audience: “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda and musical theater that includes hip-hop.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Christopher Jackson and Anthony Veneziale in the mid-2000s in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

The feel-good documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” shows what can happen when several tight-knit friends in a musical improvisational group manage to keep the group going for several years, despite the members’ individual careers and personal lives going on divergent paths. Directed by Andrew Fried, who began filming footage for the documentary in 2005, “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” is a breezy ride through the group’s story, even if it it feels like a lot of inevitable behind-the-scenes turmoil was deliberately left out of the film. The documentary includes exclusive interviews (everyone in the group is interviewed separately), as well as archival on-stage and off-stage footage, spanning from the mid-2000s to the group’s stint on Broadway in 2019.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s most famous member is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning star/creator of the stage musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.” Miranda (whose nickname in the group is Lin-Man) is an original member of Freestyle Love Supreme, which was formed in New York City in 2004. But the documentary shows that the origins of Freestyle Love Supreme really began in 1999, during a road trip taken by group co-founder Anthony Veneziale (also known as Two-Touch) and Thomas “Tommy” Kail, the group’s musical director who went on to direct the original Broadway productions of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” as well as most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s stage shows.

According to what Kail says in the documentary, he and Veneziale (who met when they were students at Wesleyan University) went on a road trip from New York City to Iowa, to help a friend make an independent film. During the trip, the only way they could stay awake was by listening to the B-side of the Daft Punk song “Around the World.”

“Anthony freestyled for four straight hours,” says Kail of that road trip. “That, in some way, was the seed for Freestyle Love Supreme.” Freestyle Love Supreme then became a collective of friends who would get together at the Drama Book Shop, which was their creative “lab,” according to Kail. Although Kail isn’t an on-stage performer for Freestyle Love Supreme, he is credited with being the behind-the-scenes architect of the group’s career.

Freestyle Love Supreme then honed their improvisational skills so that their on-stage act became randomly choosing words volunteered by the show’s audience, and then making up hip-hop-infused, often-comedic stories about those words right there on the spot. Veneziale (who also co-founded the improv FLS Academy) is the group’s emcee, who interviews audience members during the show and brings some audience members on stage. This highly interactive format makes every Freestyle Love Supreme show truly unique, which is in contrast to the traditional theater format of doing the same show for every performance.

The other original members of Freestyle Love Supreme are Christopher Jackson (also known as C-Jack); Bill Sherman (also known as King Sherman); Chris Sullivan (also known as Shockwave); and Arthur Lewis (also known as Arthur the Geniuses). Miranda and Kail went on to collaborate on “In the Heights” (which went to Broadway in 2008) and “Hamilton” (which made its Broadway debut in 2015), with both musicals including Jackson (who is Miranda’s best friend) as a co-star.

After the success of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” made Miranda, Jackson and Kail too busy for Freestyle Love Supreme on a regular basis, Freestyle Love Supreme added new members to the group. The documentary does a very good job of putting a spotlight on each member, so that people can know what their unique contributions are to Freestyle Love Supreme. (Freestyle Love Supreme has also had numerous guest performers, including Daveed Diggs and Wayne Brady.)

Miranda, who is a self-described “theater geek,” is shown to be an energetic optimist but also a perfectionist who can be very hard on himself. Jackson, who is more laid-back than Miranda, is described as the “dad” of the group, since he’s the oldest member and the first member of Freestyle Love Supreme to get married and have children.

Sherman, who plays keyboards and has a goofy sense of humor, used to be Kail’s roommate and remains very close to Kail. Sullivan, who does most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s beatboxing, is the “actual musical heartbeat of the group,” says Kail. Lewis, who plays keyboards, is described as the group’s most intellectually gifted member and “the ethereal one” of Freestyle Love Supreme, according to Kail.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s newer members are also given a spotlight: Utkarsh Ambudkar (also known as UTK The INC) is described by Miranda as “the best nuts-to-bolts rapper in the group.” James Monroe Iglehart (also known as J-Soul) is praised by multiple people as being the best singer in the group. Andrew Bancroft (also known as Jelly Donut) seems to be in awe of his group mates and says he still can’t believe that he’s in Freestyle Love Supreme.

And by the time that Freestyle Love Supreme began headlining on Broadway, the group had added its first permanent female member: Aneesa Folds (also known as Young Nees), who expresses how star-struck and honored she is to be in Freestyle Love Supreme. Why did it take so long to add a woman to the group? Probably because after the #MeToo movement happened, Freestyle Love Supreme wanted deflect any criticism that this group deliberately excludes people who aren’t of the male gender.

It probably never crossed their minds to invite women into their group before, because it’s clear from the archival footage that Freestyle Love Supreme operated very much like a fraternity, but not in a mean-spirited way. However, because of heightened awareness of how gender discrimination against people who aren’t cisgender males has been an ongoing problem in the entertainment industry (and society in general), it no doubt prompted Freestyle Love Supreme to take a hard look at their own decision making in whom they were inviting to be a part of their exclusive club.

The documentary doesn’t call attention to why Freestyle Love Supreme was a male-only group for about 15 years, probably because the male members of the group don’t want to address this issue on camera. Instead, the movie puts an emphasis on all the camaraderie they have—perhaps a little too much emphasis, to the point where it looks sugarcoated. There’s a lot of screen time devoted to soundbites where the members of Freestyle Love Supreme praise themselves and each other.

Jackson comments on how Freestyle Love Supreme is a privilege of being able to work with his closest friends: “If more people had this experience, truly, the world would be a better place.” Ambudkar says that he felt an instant connection to the members of Freestyle Love Supreme: “Whatever Freestyle was doing, it fit me like a well-worn hoodie.”

Miranda says that in the group’s early days, there was a real struggle to build a fan base, but the audience grew when the show improved and because Freestyle Love Supreme didn’t give up: “We had to work hard [for an audience]. The show worked.”

Some of the documentary’s best archival footage is of a pivotal point in the early career of Freestyle Love Supreme, when the group was invited to perform at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. No one knew at the time that Miranda was three years away from finding Broadway fame and acclaim with “In the Heights.” But during this trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the members of Freestyle Love Supreme considered it to be the highlight of their careers so far.

There’s a real infectious joy in this footage that shows their youthful optimism, as they roam the streets of Edinburgh and soak up Scottish culture. The documentary also includes footage of the group reading their first negative review together. And even that moment of the group getting some scathing criticism has a lot of humor and shows how closely bonded the group members are.

A present-day Miranda looks back on that time with a lot of fondness in the documentary. He says that even though all of the members of Freestyle Love Supreme were financially broke at the time, and their futures were uncertain, it was one of the happiest times of his life. “Everything was happening, but nothing was happening,” Miranda quips.

Some other great archival footage is of Miranda and Kail walking through New York City’s Times Square, not long before “In the Heights” was scheduled to begin previews on Broadway. Kail and Miranda look up in awe and excitement at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which had the “In the Heights” billboard and marquee already prepared.

In this archival footage, Kail and Miranda joke about how people in Times Square might or might not recognize them. Kail, who resembles former “American Idol” finalist Justin Guarini, says that people probably think he’s “that guy from ‘American Idol.'” Kail also jokes that people will probably think that Miranda looks like a “Mexican Bud Bundy,” referring to Miranda’s slight resemblance to actor David Faustino, who had the role of bratty son Bud Bundy in the sitcom “Married With Children.” (Miranda’s heritage is actually Puerto Rican, not Mexican.)

All joking aside, a group of people working together this long can’t be immune to jealousies, rivalries and conflicts. Although the documentary acknowledges that Miranda is the most famous member of Freestyle Love Supreme (after his Broadway success, he became a star and a producer in movies and television), the other group members who talk about it for the documentary only express happiness for Miranda. If they have any envy that Miranda’s career has skyrocketed, compared to the careers of other group members, it’s not shown in this movie.

However, there is some acknowledgement that Freestyle Love Supreme did go through a less-than-smooth adjustment period when it became obvious that in order for the group to keep going, certain group members (namely Miranda, Jackson and Kail) would not be as available as they once were, due to their busy Broadway careers. Another big shift in the group’s dynamics occurred when Veneziale moved to San Francisco (because of his wife’s graduate studies) and started a family there.

As a result of that relocation to the other side of the United States, Veneziale and Kail, who used to be best friends, say they became estranged from each other, and their relationship hasn’t really been the same since. Veneziale describes Kail in the early days of Freestyle Love Supreme: “He was my co-conspirator in making things.” Kail says that Veneziale is the “guts and blood” and the “engine” of Freestyle Love Supreme. However, it’s obvious that there’s still tension between Kail and Veneziale, because they choose their words very carefully when talking about each other, while expressing regret that they aren’t close friends anymore.

The documentary doesn’t bring up personal problems in Freestyle Love Supreme until the last third of the movie. Ambudkar opens up about his alcoholism and how it affected him and his role in the group. Ambudkar says that the success of “Hamilton,” which made Miranda even less available to Freestyle Love Supreme than ever before, forced Ambudkar to take a hard look at where his life was headed, and it motivated Ambudkar to get clean and sober.

The clips of Freestyle Love Supreme performing on stage, especially on Broadway, are absolutely electric and elevate this documentary, which plays it very safe overall. “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” gives the impression that it doesn’t want to divulge a lot of the realistic behind-the-scenes ego clashes in the group, for fear that it would mess up the “lovefest” vibe that the documentary is trying to convey. It’s why viewers of this movie get a lot of effusively upbeat soundbites that are a lot like this one from Ambudkar when he describes Freestyle Love Supreme: “It’s truly about embracing and celebrating the human experience.”

Hulu premiered “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” on July 17, 2020.