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review added: 3/29/01



Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy
2000 (2001) - Sony Pictures Classics (Columbia TriStar)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B

Specs and Features

95 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), full-frame (1.33:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (by writer/director Greg Berlanti and producer Mickey Liddell), deleted scenes (with optional commentary track), 5 theatrical trailers (for Broken Hearts Club, Groove, Go, All About My Mother and Futuresport), talent files, DVD-ROM features (including special website access), scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

"Jack, you're not going out in drag tonight. It's a disgrace to drag performers everywhere… it completely plays into the whole gay stereotype… and your tits are always crooked."

A quote on the back of the DVD packaging for Broken Hearts Club touts it as "the first mainstream gay movie". I can't say that I'd agree with that quote (I don't recall this film playing at local multiplexes), but that's not to say the film lacks potential mainstream Hollywood appeal. Just like any mass-produced Hollywood film, it sports a typically good-looking cast and has a script that (outside of the fact that the main characters are all gay) has been faithfully traveled many times before. Broken Hearts Club is similar in vane to both Diner and (though the characters would hate to admit it) Steel Magnolias. And, in many ways, it's just as good as both of them.

West Hollywood (the San Francisco of Los Angeles, as one of the characters refers to it) is home for the men of Broken Hearts Club. The center of the story is Dennis (Timothy Olyphant). He's single but is struggling with his ambivalence toward relationships. A boyfriend would be nice, but he doesn't want to give up the luxury of his commitment-free life. Living with his friend Cole (Dean Cain) doesn't make matters any easier. Cole is the ideal that Dennis and his friends are all too scared to admit that they wish they had - he's good looking, a total "meanwhile" (watch the film for translation) and is extremely outgoing. The real scene-stealers in Broken Hearts Club are Taylor (cabaret singer Billy Porter), the catty know-it-all dealing with the break-up of his long-term relationship, and Frasier's John Mahoney as the sweet-natured, father figure to all the guys. They both bring a needed touch of comic relief to the sometimes-episodic lives of the guys.

Much of the on-screen time is devoted to Dennis' problems, but the most engaging portion of the film is that which focuses on Howie (Matt McGrath) and Marshall (Justin Theroux). Their time on screen as on-again, off-again boyfriends was realistic, sometimes very touching and far more interesting than the Dennis character. I was never bored with Dennis' storyline, but I found myself wanting to see more of Howie and Marshall. I think equal credit for that goes to both the writing and direction and the performances of McGrath and Theroux.

What director/writer Greg Berlanti succeeds at with Broken Hearts Club, is in creating a nice group of characters with real life experience. We're not talking about the kind of gay man that Hollywood would have you believe is typical in America. They're not all HIV positive. They're not brimming with self-hatred, a la William Friedkin's The Boys in the Band. And they're not relegated to being "stylish confidants of lovelorn women". Berlanti doesn't completely paint all of the characters as whole people (do we know what their lives are like outside of their friendship with each other?), but he does manage to give them all a sense of individuality and personality. These are people that any one of us would be able to relate to, because we're given the opportunity to see them as just… guys.

Columbia TriStar made a nice effort for the DVD presentation of Broken Hearts Club. For starters, they've used a clean anamorphic print that accurately reflects the intended theatrical look of the film. Contrast is excellent and helps create some depth to the picture. Colors are bright and natural, and saturation is mostly good. On a few occasions, there is some color bleed that becomes apparent (most notably the red room scene), and this does hamper the quality of the picture as a whole. Outside of that, and a slightly grainy look to the film, this is a nice transfer. The disc also includes a cropped, 1.33:1 picture for those who prefer their home movie viewing with a boxier look.

On the audio side, we get a rather lackluster Dolby Digital 5.1 track. There's really nothing wrong with the track itself, but there's not a lot of action or movement in the mix. Most of the audio here is of the talking variety, and that's not really going to test the limits of your home audio setup. The important thing here is the dialogue, and the track doesn't disappoint in that area. There's some use of the rear speakers, but mostly for the soundtrack - there's not a lot of use of the split channel capability of a good 5.1 mix. Note that Columbia TriStar has also included decent sounding English and French 2-channel mixes.

The main attraction of the extras on this DVD is the feature commentary with Greg Berlanti and producer Mickey Liddell. It's a fun track, and Berlanti and Liddell feed off of each other's comments quite nicely. Berlanti devotes equal time to both the technical aspects the movie, as well as the behind-the-scenes musings about making his first film. And the commentary continues on a series of deleted scenes. Some of them are extensions of scenes already in the film, while others are completely new. The film would have benefited from the addition of one or two of them, but the remaining four are better left on the cutting room floor. At 95 minutes, Broken Hearts Club feels wordy, and those few extra minutes make all the difference. Columbia has also included a bevy of trailers for the indie-minded viewer. Aside from the trailer for Broken Hearts Club, you also get Groove, Go, All About My Mother and the Dean Cain action yawn Futuresport. Finally, there's a DVD-ROM link to the movies' official website to top everything off. All in all, a decent batch of extras.

My feeling is that Columbia struggled with how to market this film. In the end, it did well in the limited-release independent circuit, but didn't show the legs needed to make the rounds in bigger theatres. Broken Hearts Club is better than a lot of the more recent gay-oriented fare (even camp queen Tori Spelling couldn't save the lifeless Trick), and it shows a lot more respect for its characters than most films do. If you're one of the many that missed Broken Hearts Club in its theatrical run, you might find it worth discovering on DVD.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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