Annenberg Media’s new column, “The Rom-Com Isn’t Dead,” will examine the nuances and progressive themes within romantic comedy films and TV shows, which have storylines that have been known to be superficial and predictable. Don’t worry, we’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum here!
Even if you’re not in love (pun intended) with these heart-warming flicks, this column will help shed light on how Hollywood is adding a new depth to this idealistic and cliché-heavy genre, revitalizing it into a new-age breed that fits the needs of modern audiences.
The Broken Hearts Gallery is just one of the many examples of this new spin on the popular archetype. The movie follows Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan), a quirky young adult who works as an art gallery assistant in New York City and hoards sentimental belongings from her past, including items from ex-boyfriends. However, after she gets dumped by her boyfriend and loses her job, she has a meet-cute with up-and-coming hotel owner, Nick (Dacre Montgomery). Together, they collaborate on creating The Broken Hearts Gallery, a place where people can leave their mementos from past relationships, which quickly goes viral on social media and sprouts a revolution Lucy never thought possible.
When examining earlier rom-coms, women protagonists are often portrayed as shrewd or stuck-up like Kat Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You, they must undergo a make-over in order to win affection like Laney Boggs in She’s All That, or they are awkward and clumsy like Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’ Diary. These beloved classics are just a few of the countless films that introduce their heroines as being “undateable” — that is at least, until a brewing romance forces them to change who they are to meet the expectations of the male fantasy. However, Lucy avidly rejects all of these characteristics. She is approachable, confident and effervescent from the start, her witty and idiosyncratic humor never comes from cheap falls or fumbles, and the only monumental transformation she experiences is an internal one.
Formerly known for her roles in comedies like Universal Pictures’ Blockers and Sundance indie dramas like Hala, Viswanathan has shown great range in her acting abilities and brings a spectacular comedic timing to her role as Lucy. The actress was born in Australia and is of Swiss and Indian descent, offering new representation to a genre in which women of color are often limited to playing “the supportive best friend.” The Broken Hearts Gallery features many classic rom-com tropes like karaoke duets, grand gestures, and even side testimonials from characters reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally. However, Viswanathan’s Lucy brings forth a fresh perspective to the “leading lady” and creates space for even more women-centered and diverse stories in future romps.
This artistic revelation in the genre makes perfect sense when looking to the women not only on but also off-screen. Written and directed by Natalie Krinsky and executive produced by Selena Gomez and her mother, Mandy Teefey, the film radiates a sense of female empowerment, allowing the common “chick-flick” to evolve into a feminist story.
Viewers can recognize this in Lucy and Nick’s partnership as they work together and support one another as both colleagues and friends. Lucy is never faced with the idea that she must choose between having love or having a career, which is refreshing. Seeing Montgomery play a charming heartthrob was also very different from his character as Billy in Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” The Australian actor gives the typical male love interest a new sensitivity and empathy, defying the toxic masculine characteristics that are often romanticized in rom-coms. Female friendship is also a prevalent theme in the film, showing that not all women in rom-coms have to be enemies, but rather they can be allies and support each other equally.
Ultimately, my favorite part about the film was its message of healing and personal growth. In helping people heal from their heartbreak by opening the gallery, Lucy learns to heal from her own trauma. She realizes that holding onto the past can sometimes bring more grief, a lesson that goes beyond romantic relationships. Mental health is not often touched on in rom-coms due to its heavy subject matter, but Krinsky’s film explores the topic with grace and authenticity.
If you feel lost or stressed during these uncertain times, this light-hearted film is sure to cheer you up, empower you, make you laugh until your stomach aches and even make you shed a few tears. Many rom-coms do not harness the ability to evoke all of those emotions at once, but Lucy’s relatable and believable character took me on a healing journey that I didn’t know I needed.
I guess that’s just the underestimated power of the rom-com.