Boys in the Bland


The mating habits of gay men come under scrutiny yet again in The Broken Hearts Club, a Sundance favorite that, for release, has been helpfully subtitled A Romantic Comedy. Indistinguishable from any number of morbidly solipsistic rom-coms to tackle the deathless subject of being gay and lovelorn, BHC throws the by now customary hissy fit, feigning an aggrieved disavowal of gay-scene frivolity and superficiality, before instinctively backpedaling into a cozy affirmation of those very attributes.

Writer-director Greg Berlanti has assigned each member of his Broken Hearts ensemble—a group of West Hollywood gay friends who happen to almost all be white and gym-toned (not to mention callow, petty, and judgmental)—a personal-growth project to complete before the end of the movie. Aspiring photographer Dennis (Timothy Olyphant) has arrived at a crushing conclusion: “All I’m good at is being gay.” His actor roommate, Cole (Dean Cain), is a dim, callous slut. One friend has an inferiority complex. Another is involved in a misguided breakup. Yet another, ignoring uniformly knee-jerk warnings, falls for a gym rat, and suffers the consequences. The token black character is also the token flaming queen, called upon to expectorate strenuously catty put-downs and flap his arms during softball.

The outsider’s perspective is provided by a vulnerable young man (Andrew Keegan) who flip-flops between Dennis and Cole, and sees his new acquaintances as a bunch of “bitter, jaded” narcissists. This perceptiveness is, however, ascribed to closetdom, and he’s eventually inducted into the feel-good club. The film has better actors than it deserves: Olyphant is charismatic enough for his worst lines not to stick; Matt McGrath, as the insecure Howie, provides a sorely needed note of psychological credibility when the script allows; John Mahoney does his affable best with a pitiful mother-hen role. Berlanti is a producer on Dawson’s Creek, which may account for the bloated loquaciousness, damp self-absorption, and defensive reflexiveness on display here. In one typical conversation, someone bemoans the lack of true-to-life gay characters in movies, then squeals, “Can you imagine if they made a film about us?” Actually, yes, and so can anyone who’s seen Jeffrey, Trick, Love! Valour! Compassion!, or Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss.

“I’m not a savior,” Denzel Washington cautions early on in Remember the Titans. Don’t worry, he’s lying. Dragging his team out of bed for a 3 a.m. run, Washington’s Herman Boone, the new football coach at a recently integrated high school in 1971 West Virginia, leads them to Gettysburg and, as a momentous early-morning fog conveniently rolls in, messianically urges them to “come together on this hallowed ground.” And so, the T.C. Williams High Titans settle in for a crash course in race relations—black and white teammates begin to regard each other not with fear and suspicion but as, well, charmingly different (the black kids’ habit of launching into spontaneous, soulful song and their off-color jokes about each other’s mothers are a source of particular bemusement). Based on (or rather, inflated from) a true story, Remember the Titans is apparently producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s idea of a serious, small-scale movie, but by any reasonable standard, it’s still boorish and flatulent. There’s plenty of downtime before the come-from-behind victory, so director-for-hire Boaz Yakin cranks up Trevor Rabin’s randomly rousing earache of a score and engineers a shameless moment of courageous-athlete poignancy that wouldn’t be out of place on NBC’s doggedly lachrymose Olympics coverage.