At one point in "The Broken Hearts Club," an older gay man supplies a bit of no-nonsense comfort to a younger gay guy despairing over his plain looks: Not everybody can be straight, goes the advice, and not everybody can be beautiful. "Some people are just gay and average."
Some movies are just gay and average, too, and "The Broken Hearts Club" is one of them. The ensemble cast consists of a group of 20-something gay men in L.A., supplemented by the older, wiser restaurant owner Jack (Frasier's John Mahoney) and two fairly unlikeable minor-character lesbians (Nia Long and Mary McCormack). As the men cast about for love, they help the just-coming-out Kevin (Andrew Keegan) understand his new world, which gives writer/director Greg Berlanti plenty of chances to have his characters carefully explain to Kevin -- and to us -- the ins and outs of gay life.
The group centers around Dennis (Timothy Olyphant, from "Go" and "Scream 2"), a waiter yearning to be a photographer, one of the few characters given any sort of defining interest. Dennis, we're made to understand, has slept around a lot, but shortly after we meet him he balks at a one-night stand and decides, "I can't do this anymore." He's afraid, though, of real love and commitment, a quality that's left vague and unexplored. Each character gets a similar shorthand: Cole (Dean Cain, a.k.a. Superman) is gorgeous and slightly heartless; Howie (Matt McGrath) is smart and slightly manipulative; Patrick (Ben Weber) is befuddled and slightly self-pitying. And so forth.
They all have good hearts, though, and often they have good, even perceptive, things to say. The softball game scenes -- the team, sponsored by Jack's restaurant, is blissfully bungling -- are funny, though not original. There's even a moment involving the recitation of lines from Shakespeare beginning "Sweet are the uses of adversity" that attains the gentle poignancy that other parts of the film would like to reach but don't.
This is the type of circumscribed movie that knows what it wants to do and doesn't hesitate to flat-out tell us its modest goals: In one scene the guys discuss how they'd like to see a movie with gay men who weren't sick, promiscuous or otherwise stereotypically highlighted. No question, this conversation plunks itself down as the movie's self-definition, and indeed Berlanti, a producer of "Dawson's Creek," wants a sort of unadorned realism to reign. At times the dialogue misses that mark by being too polished and premeditated, like when Howie's ex tells him, "I can't be your Rice-A-Roni," explaining how that boxed side dish is the game-show consolation prize that everyone knows they'll go home with. No one angry and sad about being treated carelessly manages to be this precise about his metaphors.
Still, for the most part, the film achieves its purpose of depicting homosexual everydayness, along with the comforts and constrictions that come with close friendships. All of which leads you to say: Eh. I know plenty of witty, despondent, slightly manipulative, slightly whatever people. Everydayness works fine for everyday, but a movie -- even a down-to-earth, realistic one -- needs to be a movie for a reason. "The Broken Hearts Club" doesn't map its terrain subtly enough, and it doesn't reveal much, unless you don't know what qualifies as an "obviously gay trait." For these guys, one trait is liking the clear lip gloss and brown barrettes of the Carpenters. In other words, gay and average.
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