Gays Not Clichés
'Broken Hearts Club' captures 'normal' gay life
By Victor Maze

Superman turned gay uses his X-ray vision on an unsuspecting young man.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, before the invention of Will and Grace or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, there lived real honest-to-goodness gay folks with warts and worries and normal lives. They loved and partied and ate lunch just like everyone else, but lo and behold, they were gay. Some normal, some quirky, but all gay.

We'll call this place Los Angeles, setting the stage for the cast of The Broken Hearts Club, a new romantic comedy that made its world premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

At the center of the story is Dennis (Timothy Olyphant), a West Hollywood photographer who, around his 28th birthday, begins reflecting on his life and the experiences he shares with his close group of friends. He tells the audience, "I can't remember when I first realized I was gay, only the first time I knew it was okay. It was when I met these guys - my friends."

And so we are introduced to a motley crew of gay men as diverse as the colors of the rainbow - or pride flag. John Mahoney of Frasier plays Jack, an older gay father figure who owns the restaurant the guys frequent. Then there is the hunky Cole, played by Dean Cain (Lois and Clark), who has boys swooning in the streets despite the love-'em-and-leave-'em reputation he has earned. Add to this mix the bleached-blond club kid Benji (Zach Braff), the neurotic and jaded Howie (Matt McGrath), and the innocent but horny Kevin (Andrew Keegan), a fresh-out-of-the-closet "newbie." And who could forget Taylor (Billy Porter), the obligatory drama queen, who insists on breaking up Dennis's birthday party so he can wallow in misery as he sobs to the Beaches soundtrack. (In his defense, his boyfriend had just dumped him for a personal trainer.)

The plot is not hard to follow as the movie basically documents a few weeks in the life of these average Joes; they talk about men, play a game to see who can act straight the longest, talk about men, join a softball team, talk about men, party at a club, and talk about men.

In one scene, Howie, a generally snide and bitter fellow, laments the lack of realistic gay characters in mainstream Hollywood cinema. According to him, there are only four types of gay characters in movies: the noble AIDS victim, the friend of a noble AIDS victim, the slut, and the leading lady's stylish confidante (think Rupert Everett in My Best Friend's Wedding). Why can't someone make a movie about realistic gays like us, he asks, so we can stop comparing ourselves to the characters in Steel Magnolias.

Although this was a corny - albeit funny - part of the movie, this is exactly what Broken Hearts was intended to be.

"I wanted to write a film about gay men that was more the way I knew the gay world to be, which is very mainstream and regular," said screenwriter/director Greg Berlanti.

In doing so, he created a romantic comedy that is not much different from any other romantic comedy, except for the fact that all of the characters are gay.

The biggest strength of the film is the cohesion of this ensemble cast. With a mix of gay and straight actors all in gay roles, the movie succeeds because the talented cast makes it easy to forget who is acting gay and who really is. Like many gay men, the characters' friendships are deeply bonded, blurring the line between friends and family.

The believability of the actors' portrayals was largely due to the natural and realistic sound of the script. Using many of the universally gay expressions, the lines seemed fresh, funny, and unrehearsed. From referring to Dennis' ex-fling as "J. Crew Guy" to screaming "For your nerves, honey!" during moments of excitement, the cast allowed themselves to enter the realm of the gay man without mocking or overdoing it.

Despite the tinges of humor throughout the movie, the characters deal with some serious issues as well. A drug overdose by one friend and the death of another add realism to this gay slice of life. Patrick (Ben Weber), another of the friends, is put into an awkward though amusing position when his lesbian sister asks him to donate his sperm so her lover (whom he hates) can get pregnant. (Yes, everyone is gay.)

Thematically, the movie explores the concept of friends as family, while dealing with the search for one's individual identity and independence within the group. Whether dealing with feelings of inadequacy or realizing he let a good thing go, each of the characters undergoes a cathartic experience within the plot as they each deal with their respective emotional baggage.

The Broken Hearts Club is not hysterically funny nor does it ask you to cry your eyes out. Rather, in its realism, it presents gay life and life in general as the bittersweet saga it truly is, reminding the audience to keep smiling, keep shining. After all, that's what friends are for.