Friday September 29, 2000
Greg Berlanti's lively and engaging "The Broken Hearts Club" is subtitled "a romantic comedy" but is much more than that: a sharply observed yet affectionate and humorous critique of the values of the gay world of West Hollywood, where one's circle of friends can be as unintentionally destructive as it is warmly supportive.
A co-executive producer of TV's "Dawson's Creek," Berlanti brings a smart, witty, mainstream style to his well-crafted picture, which surely enhances its crossover appeal. Tart dialogue, deft characterizations and finely tuned ensemble performances from a hunky cast should further guarantee that this Sony Pictures Classics release will be one of the most popular gay-themed films to date.
The pivotal figure among six gay friends is Timothy Olyphant's Dennis, an aspiring photographer approaching 30, an age of inevitable stock-taking. Dennis is nice-looking, quick with a comeback and beginning to see that he's not getting anywhere professionally or personally. His romantic life adds up to little more than a series of one-night stands with men as attractive as himself, while he's still working at a restaurant run by a paternal and kindly retired actor, Jack (John Mahoney).
Dennis shares a tasteful, well-appointed home--you would hardly expect otherwise--with a shameless love-'em-and-leave 'em type, a great-looking aspiring actor, Cole (Dean Cain). They take in their co-worker Taylor (Billy Porter) when his longtime lover dumps him.
Also in their group are Zach Braff's Benji, a sweet-natured youth with spiky blond hair and leather pants who dulls his vulnerability with drugs; Andrew Keegan's Kevin, a guy so young he's not actually out yet and a co-worker of the smitten Benji; Matt McGrath's Howie, who's such a chronic complainer and pessimist that he can't accept that his handsome, long-suffering companion Marshall (Justin Theroux) really does care for him; and Ben Weber's self-pitying Patrick, a perfectly nice-looking man who nevertheless feels that he fails miserably to meet community standards for looks.
"Gay men in L.A. are a bunch of 10s looking for 11s," says Patrick, hitting the nail squarely on the head in regard to the value placed on appearances in his world. Not surprisingly, these guys are caught up in a constant pursuit of sex and romance, confusing the two and getting hurt in the process.
In the course of everyday life, none of these men end up in the same place they're in when we first meet them. Kevin's growing discontent and his increasing resolve to make drastic changes in his life give the film its key focus and development. Everyone in the cast makes a strong impression, especially the rugged Cain, who is completely at ease in playing a far-from-sympathetic gay man (who, you can be sure, gets his comeuppance).
Berlanti's script crystallizes how the constant pursuit of sexual partners and partying can deflect some gay men from making something of their lives, that friends are great when chips are down but they can also be a powerfully negative force--especially when it's so easy for minorities to unconsciously absorb the majority's often hostile and oppressive views of them.
Berlanti even touches upon the plight of aging gays: In one scene, Jack, who is in a happy and long-term relationship, states in a fatherly fashion to Dennis that he loves him, giving him an affectionate rather than romantic kiss. Yet this trim, still-attractive man feels compelled to assure Dennis that senior gays don't expect to be kissed back. Jack not only has made his restaurant a hangout--and for some, a source of employment--for Dennis and his pals, but he also serves as coach for the group's softball team, the Broken Hearts.
"The Broken Hearts Club" is a very knowing film, in its perceptions and in the way it is made. It has the professional sheen of a Hollywood production without undue glitz, a deft balance between the hilarious and the heart-tugging. It's specific in sexual orientation and locale, yet Berlanti's observations surely apply in general to young urban straights and their friends as they try to get on with their personal and professional lives.
Indeed, the key achievement of the film is that there's nothing marginal--or marginalizing--about the way it was made or in the lives of the men it depicts. To describe "The Broken Hearts Club" as commercial is to pay it a compliment.
The Broken Hearts Club, 2000. R, for language, drug use and some sexual content. A Sony Pictures Classics release of a Banner Entertainment production. Writer-director Greg Berlanti. Producers Mickey Liddell and Joseph Middleton. Co-producers Julie Plec and Sam Irvin. Cinematographer Paul Elliott. Editor Todd Busch. Music Christopher Beck. Costumes Mas Kondo. Production designer Charlie Daboub. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Timothy Olyphant as Dennis. Dean Cain as Cole. Ben Weber as Patrick. Andrew Keegan as Kevin. John Mahoney as Jack.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times