At one point in The Broken Hearts Club, a homosexual man tells his old friend that what he’s best at is being gay. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one. Writer-director Greg Berlanti’s characters aren’t gay and something else: They’re defined almost exclusively by sexual orientation. Professions, ambitions and nonsexual desires are scarcely mentioned for most members of this large male ensemble (and two token lesbians).
Part of the problem is that what initially appears to be an exploration of active sex lives is actually quite chaste and infused with romantic sentimentality. Stranger still is that while queer cinema has grown beyond pat coming-out stories and AIDS tragedies, Berlanti has made what amounts to a simplistic gay primer (Longtime Companion without the political agenda) for the straight fans of “Will & Grace.” In fact, this film feels like a gay “Friends,” where attractive men inhabit an insular, ritualized world and every detail of their lives is carefully explained for the homosexually impaired.
Despite this condescending attitude, Broken Hearts Club has numerous moments of wit and insight, particularly when characters break out of their prescribed type. The action revolves around Dennis (Timothy Olyphant), a budding photographer who’s stuck in a rut. His close circle of friends, who suffer from varying degrees of romantic disillusionment, include vain actor-brazen maneater Cole (TV Superman Dean Cain), endearingly sweet newbie Kevin (Andrew Keegan) and the group’s loving, accepting father figure, Jack (John Mahoney), whose West Hollywood restaurant, Jack of Broken Hearts, enthusiastically sponsors the woefully inept softball team they all play on.
At its best, Broken Hearts Club is about the bonds of friendship and how they can both nurture and suffocate individuals. When the best intentions of loved ones breed stagnation, Berlanti asserts, another kind of coming out is called for.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].