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Engaging drama, first-class performances
on March 14, 2002
Though described on the DVD packaging as "the first mainstream gay movie" (erm, "Philadelphia", anyone?), Greg Berlanti's "The Broken Hearts Club A Romantic Comedy" (2000) seems more than a little timid in the wake of confrontational dramas like "Queer as Folk", but the former producer and co-writer of TV's gay-friendly "Dawson's Creek" makes an auspicious directorial debut with this familiar account of several gay friends looking for love and companionship in vanity-driven Los Angeles. As one character puts it: "Gay men in LA are a bunch of 10's looking for an 11."
Essentially the tale of a gay softball team composed of staff and management of a popular restaurant run by elderly patriarch John Mahoney (celebrated co-star of TV's "Frasier"), the film's paper-thin narrative is roused by a combination of lively dialogue and well-defined characters, played to perfection by a terrific cast, culled mostly from the New York stage: Ben Weber is the 'Plain Joe' whose inability to attract a boyfriend is due more to his lack of self-esteem than absence of personality; Dean Cain (Superman himself!) is a hunky aspiring actor who leaves a trail of broken hearts in his wake; punk-style Zach Braff portrays a gym-queen who seems wilfully blind to the dark side of gym culture; Matt McGrath and Justin Theroux are ex-boyfriends who can't seem to let go of one another; and Andrew Keegan is the cute new kid who stumbles into this disparate group whilst struggling to come to terms with his burgeoning sexuality. The unofficial pack-leader (Timothy Olyphant) is smart, ironic, and increasingly aware of the personal opportunities he's sacrificed in his relentless pursuit of casual sex with strangers.
Given the breakneck pace and distinctive character traits outlined in Berlanti's script, the actors invigorate a fairly routine scenario with their keen attention to detail and beautifully-judged responses to the various plot developments, though Olyphant (whose demonic good looks have previously seen him typecast in too many villainous roles) dominates proceedings as a young man who finds himself at a crossroads and recognizes the need to change his life forever. Mahoney is funny, wise and dignified as the Shakespeare-quoting softball coach, and Broadway singer-actor Billy Porter gets some of the best lines in a role that otherwise amounts to little more than comic relief. Beefcake is provided by supermodel-turned-actor Michael Bergin ("Baywatch Hawaii") and Christian Kane (semi-regular on TV's "Angel") in cameo roles, and the lovely Kerr Smith appears briefly in one of the movie's best scenes. Watch out, too, for a memorable appearance by Jennifer Coolidge as a 'helpful' hair stylist who brings the house down with a single line of dialogue! However, a subplot involving Weber's sister (Mary McCormack) and her attempts to become a mother with long-term partner Nia Long is underdeveloped to the point of redundancy (memo to gay moviemakers: if you're gonna include lesbians in these otherwise all-male offerings, do 'em properly or not at all!), and Cain's much-publicized 'kiss' with Keegan is coyly hidden by the angle at which it's filmed, a hideous cop-out (the eminently straight Olyphant has no such qualms, however, and he kisses some of his male co-stars with abandon!). Shot on location over a three week period and photographed in Super 35 by cinematographer Paul Elliott ("And the Band Played On"), the movie has the look and feel of a widescreen TV show, and Berlanti opts for fairly basic compositions which allow the characters to govern the frame throughout.
Columbia Tristar's region 1 DVD runs 95m 10s and includes both a 4:3 pan-scan version and a letterboxed (2.35:1) print, anamorphically enhanced. Picture quality is fine but not pristine, possibly due to lesser quality film stock, while the 5.1 and 2.0 soundtrack options are expansive but unremarkable. Subtitles and closed captions are provided. Extras include a trailer for the video release (what happened to the theatrical version?!), deleted scenes - including a wonderful, life-changing encounter between old pro Mahoney and youthful pretender Keegan - and a terrific commentary by Berlanti and co-producer Mickey Liddell, both of whom seem mildly surprised at how well the finished movie turned out! Clearly enjoying themselves, they recount a wealth of production details and on-set anecdotes, and they also provide comprehensive reasons for their various casting decisions, tacitly acknowledging that their actors are the heart and soul of the picture. Berlanti mentions that he hopes to preserve a number of the actors' audition tapes on DVD, but sadly, they haven't been included here.
Gay cinema doesn't really need another romantic comedy, but while "Broken Hearts" doesn't offer anything new, it's salvaged by snappy editing, a quickfire pace, and first-class performances by some of the best young actors working in America today. And thanks to a clever, throwaway bit of name-dropping, the movie offers fleeting confirmation - at last! - of the role played by sex-god Antonio Sabato Jr. in the fantasies of hormonally-charged gay teenagers everywhere! Been there, done that...