‘I feel like the movie gods shone down on us’

For most people, break-ups are painful ordeals to be endured and then, hopefully, forgotten.

However, Geraldine Viswanathan’s Lucy, the 20-something New Yorker at the centre of new romantic comedy The Broken Hearts Gallery, takes a different approach.

Her bedroom becomes a messy tribute to her failed romances, the walls lined with memories of past loves. A particularly painful break-up leads to an intervention from her friends, determined to help her learn to move on.

Lucy meets aspiring hotelier Nick – played by Stranger Things star Dacre Montgomery – and despite their starkly different outlooks on life and love, they team up for the titular Broken Hearts Gallery, collecting mementos from the doomed relationships of New Yorkers.

“When I read the script, it had all the elements of the classic rom-coms that we all know and love, but it felt so modern and fresh and I just thought Lucy was a really cool character, someone I wanted to be friends with,” says Viswanathan, who is earning rave reviews for her portrayal of the outgoing art gallery assistant.

“So I was like, ‘maybe I’ll just play her for a little bit, and see if she can have an influence on me’.”

Lucy is the life and soul of the party while love interest Nick is more reserved. Viswanathan and Montgomery – who are both Australian – say they share similarities with their characters.

“For me, I think Lucy is a little bit more extroverted than I am,” the 25-year-old adds.

“I think I am the person who is making everyone get up and sing at karaoke but she kicks it up a notch. So I related to her a lot but she was this new level that was really fun to play.”

Montgomery, also 25, identified with the more subdued Nick.

“I definitely think I have (things) in common with my character,” he says. “Nick is kind of scared of making a fool of himself and can’t get out of his shell sometimes.”

The Broken Hearts Gallery is written and directed by first-time filmmaker Natalie Krinsky, who Viswanathan describes as like a “grown-up version of Lucy”.

“It was amazing because she was so open and collaborative,” she adds. “Sometimes when writers and directors have their script and it’s their baby and it’s so personal, they get really protective of it.

“But she was just like ‘it’s fair game. Bring yourselves, bring your jokes, bring your ideas’. And it just really inspired everyone to be working at their best and it was really cool to watch her fulfil her destiny as a director because she’s got this infectious energy.

“She’s such a people person, she’s basically grown-up Lucy. She’s just born to direct and be the captain of the ship.”

The pair are chatting over Zoom two days after the film Academy unveiled its new diversity requirements that films will have to satisfy in order to be eligible for best picture at the Oscars, and both Montgomery and Viswanathan nod their approval at the rules, which are designed to improve inclusion both in front of and behind the camera, as well as in executive positions at studios.

The Oscars has attracted strident criticism in recent years for a lack of recognition for people of colour and a dearth of nominations for female directors.

Viswanathan says having a woman at the helm of a story about women can make a film more authentic. And, in the case of a romantic-comedy, broaden the character’s goal beyond just “getting the guy”.

“Now it’s at a point where the women characters have to be fully dimensional,” she says. “I think there needs to be a want that is separate from just getting the guy.

“I think that was the standard for a while and I feel like now it’s becoming so much more truthful with women directing these films.

“Lucy’s friendships and her career aspirations and all of those things are as equally important if not more important than the romantic storylines. For an audience to really be on-board with a rom-com these days I think that’s pretty important.”

Montgomery agrees and he is pleased a new breed of rom-com exists for his younger sister’s generation.

We’ve been talking a lot about representation and I think a big thing for me was witnessing, seeing and portraying a role where a male is supporting the female character in the film. That’s so important to me.”

As well as its two stars, The Broken Hearts Gallery boasts a strong supporting cast of memorable characters.

Arturo Castro plays Nick’s wise-cracking best friend Marcos while Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo star as Amanda and Nadine, Lucy’s best friends.

British actress Suki Waterhouse also makes an appearance, as does model Taylor Hill and well-known chef Roy Choi, who plays himself, and the cast struck up a rapport immediately.

“I feel like the movie gods shone down on us a little bit on this one, because we just got lucky with this cast,” according to Viswanathan.

“With Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo for example, we did not have a chemistry read, and our friendship chemistry is so important in the film and we just got so lucky that we truly loved each other and instantly felt like we’d known each other forever and felt like friends.

“Same goes with the whole cast – it just worked and I think that requires a bit of movie magic. You can’t really plan for that. It just worked.”

Pop star Selena Gomez served as executive producer on the film, and though the actors did not work directly with the singer, Montgomery could feel her influence throughout.

“The presence was felt all the way through in guiding and holding up the production and providing such a great direction.”

The Broken Hearts Gallery is among the vanguard of films attempting to entice wary fans back inside the cinema following months of closed doors due to the pandemic.

The situation remains uncertain on both sides of the Atlantic. Viewers who do decide to return to theatres for The Broken Hearts Gallery will find a love letter to New York City and the hustle and bustle it was renowned for before Covid-19.

Such scenes may seem anachronistic at a time when many communal spaces are either closed completely or under tight restrictions, but Montgomery believes the film can provide a reminder of happier times.

“It pays a nice homage to a simpler time which I think is amazing,” he says.

“But also it’s a nice level of escapism to watch that hustle and that bustle in such a big city reflected now.”

The Broken Hearts Gallery is in cinemas now.

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