The Agony of “Gay” “Cinema”: The Broken Hearts Club
Someone please check on Greg Berlanti. I hope he’s ok.
Is your heart broken? Perhaps you will be interested in this club, which is not so much a club as a group of friends/co-workers/roommates/reluctant softball team who are all gay dudes who live in West Hollywood. Yes, today we are revisiting future Arrowverse creator Greg Berlanti’s The Broken Hearts Club. This 2000 “romantic comedy” is kind of a riff on The Boys in the Band, in that both center on groups of gay friends who psychologically torture each other. And actually, I don’t think any of the characters’ hearts are broken so much as their souls have been obliterated by internalized homophobia, late 90s mall fashion, and also living in Los Angeles. So, not quite as miserable as the boys in The Boys in the Band, but still kinda miserable. Here we go!
The first thing we see onscreen is a redefinition of the word “meanwhile,” because one of the things about the group of gays at the center of this movie is that they have their very own specific lexicon of codewords and whatnot. “Meanwhile,” in the context of The Broken Hearts Club is what you say when you want to subtly alert your fellow gays to the presence of a hot guy within your immediate vicinity. (My best girlfriend in college was extremely charmed by this.)
We cut to four guys having coffee and talking about straight guys stuff. You know, sports games, automobiles, drinks that taste gross. That stuff. Except SURPRISE! All these guys are entirely gay, and this is just a fun game they play: they make heterosexual male noise with their mouths and whoever betrays his gayness first has to pay for all the lattes. FUUUUUUUUUN. Particularly as, I think, a total of two of the actors in this whole movie were actually openly gay.
Anyway: a term used to elegantly segue away from ranting about homophobia as it relates to Hollywood casting decisions in the late 90s which persists to this very day.
Anyway… Zack Braff, a bleached blonde party boy with a tribal tattoo and a wallet chain and a thing for “gym bunnies” (more on this later) is the loser because he says “Amen, girlfriend!” The other gays having coffee are: Timothy Olyphant, a handsome normal gay photographer; Glasses who is always insecure and grumpy and too smart for everyone else I guess because of his glasses; and Skipper from Sex and the City who is hideously ugly and hates himself and all his friends and all other gays and maybe also women and might be actually suicidal? Someone in this movie should really get Skipper some help!
This is only about half of the main characters in this movie! There’s also Republican former Superman Dean Cain, who is the handsomest, sexiest man in West Hollywood. But he’s also a heartless cad who makes all the boys fall in love with him and then dumps them using a prepared script. Because also he’s an actor. Then there’s Billy Porter, the only Black person the rest of these guys know, whose defining characteristic at the beginning is that he is in a long-term relationship and very smug about it, and later is that he is sassy and seems to be the only one of these guys who doesn’t fully hate himself. There’s also Jack, the only old person any of these guys know. Jack, who is played by the late definitely-not-out actor John Mahoney, owns the restaurant where everyone works and is constantly trying to get everyone to play softball.
There’s this very horrible scene, mid-opening credits where Glasses and Skipper from Sex and the City are shopping and Glasses gets mad because he thinks a cute guy only thinks he’s “a fag” because he’s with Skipper. Because being identifiably gay is the worst thing you can be in this movie for some reason? (The reason is internalized homophobia.) So, then they start asking strangers if they can tell if Glasses is “a fag.” And everyone benignly calls him gay slurs. HA HA HA HA HA.
Also mid-credits, the guy Dean Cain is breaking up with loudly calls him a “bottom boy” in a crowded restaurant, which is the other worst possible thing you can be according to The Broken Hearts Club. So, we’re off to a great start.
It’s Timothy Olyphant’s birthday and on the way to his party, Glasses is fighting with his on-again-off-again boyfriend, pot smoker Justin Theroux. It’s…kind of unclear what their issue is, but I think it’s that Glasses hates that Justin Theroux smokes so much pot and…thinks he’s better than him? But he likes to have gay sex with him still. And Justin Theroux…loves him for some reason? He’s like, “I wait desperately for the day for you to calm down and wake up and realize you love me!” So, that’s their terrible dynamic.
And now, more vocabulary! Newbie: a sweet, inexperienced newly out gay boy, “destined for heartbreak.” A young person! An innocent! An ingenue! In this instance, Kevin (Andrew Keegan from 10 Things I Hate About You), Zack Braff’s co-worker from Structure (!!!) who he’s kinda into. But tragically, he introduces Kevin to Dean Cain at the party and Dean Cain immediately starts hitting on the wee lad, who is smitten by his handsomeness and muscles. Dean Cain is the worst!
So, Timothy Olyphant is v excited and nervous because some guy he hooked up with on New Year’s Eve is at the party! But just as they are putting their tongues inside each other’s faces disaster strikes! Billy Porter’s long-term husbone has left him for a personal trainer named Dash. He is distraught, due to heartbreak, but also because of TO’s music selection. “No Bette, no Judy! What the fuck is a fairy supposed to do around here in case of emergency?”
Everyone is trying to be supportive—except for Skipper from Sex and the City, who is basically like, “I told you so!” See, Skipper is hideously ugly which makes him bitter and miserable, so he wants everyone else to be miserable too. “This is the time in the evening when all the prettier boys hook up anyway, so I’m just gonna leave now,” he huffs. Skipper is also pretty much the worst. But that doesn’t stop his lesbian sister from asking him for his sperm so she can impregnate her girlfriend, Nia Long, who Skipper also hates! Literally, he’s dropping her off after the party in his 1997 VW New Beetle, and she’s just like “Oh, BTW, can we have some sperms?”
Meanwhile (in the traditional sense), the party is over and Timothy Olyphant is now going to hook up again with that guy from New Year’s. But first, Fraiser’s dad gets all judgmental and is like, “You shouldn’t have so much meaningless sex!” TO is just like, “Haha, good night beloved old troll who can’t possibly understand youthful sexual lustings!” Except then when he’s trying to do sex with the New Year’s guy, he can’t do it because New Year’s guy…doesn’t like The Carpenters? And TO loves The Carpenters. (But…didn’t we just establish that he didn’t have enough sad gay music amongst all his compact discs? Are The Carpenters not sad and gay enough for Billy Porter in this scenario?) Also, TO is having a very sudden epiphany:
“I’m tired of having sex with people who only care what I look like!” he handsomely says. “I want something…more…”
So, he kicks the guy from New Year’s out and goes to the kitchen where he finds young Kevin, freshly shagged by Dean Cain (who is Timmy O’s roommate) and eating birthday cake alone. Which is a 100% normal thing to do. I mean, who hasn’t hooked up with someone they just met and then, instead of leaving that person’s house, slipped off to their kitchen to eat cake in the dark while they slept?
TO: “Ah, I see that you are enjoying the traditional post gay sex lonely dessert course, young stranger.”
Kevin the newb sees that TO is having some sort of sad and so insists that he make a birthday wish because “everyone knows that birthday wishes are the only ones with any real validity.” Is that something that everyone knows? But never mind that because is wee Kevin flirting with Timalyphont??? He literally just took Dean Cain’s dick out of his mouth! Also, he came to the party as Zack Braff’s date! Also also, he’s like: “All you gay guys do is sit around gayly talking about gay stuff and how you want do gay stuff to other guys. That’s so GAY!” TWIST: Kevin is not just a newbie, he’s not even out despite the fact that 1) he works at Structure and 2) his mouth was mere moments ago filled with Dean Cain’s Republican penis. This kid is all kindsa mixed up, Timberly! Throw him out on the street immediately!
(We should pause to appreciate the clothes in this movie. Everyone is wearing wide legged painter pants and shiny untucked short sleave button-ups and little necklaces and chunky sandals and boxy sweaters! I’m having vivid flashbacks of shopping at Gadzooks in the mall in 1998! Which…actually, is all of this back in style now??? It is, isn’t it? Oh god!)
Next, we learn about “gay man’s therapy,” which according to this movie is complaining about your best friends who are all ruining your life to your stylist who is Jennifer fucking Coolidge! (I should note here that my version of therapy is watching the Uzo Aduba reboot of In Treatment, so I’m doing GREAT.)
Another thing we learn is that all of these guys want to be Dean Cain, whom they describe as: gorgeous, soulless, and completely “straight-acting,” which was the soul-deadening, self-loathing, heteronormative way we used to describe conventionally masculine gays in the 90s, and feels super ironic coming out of the mouths of all of these STRAIGHT ACTORS. Honestly, this one term made me want to stop watching this movie and spend an hour with my therapist, Uzo Aduba.
Then there is a scene in which Billy Porter, who is now staying with TO and DC, has redecorated their living room:
Thimotée Olyphant on the new living room: “Thanks to Mufasa here, it’s now a Tunisian hut.” Hahaha! Casual late 90s racism! All these straight white dudes and Greg Berlanti and all of us owe Billy Porter an apology for this pointless scene, and if you were to stop here and just go watch Pose now, I wouldn’t try to stop you.
Moving on. Openly straight-acting straight actor Dean Cain is up for a part in a moving picture, so he needs Oltimmyphont to bake him some new headshots or whatever. In TO’s dark room, he asks Dean Cain what’s up with that tender young Kevin kid, and Dean Cain is like, “Kevin who now?” because he’s a heartless handsome playboy. Except, Dean Cain points out, TO has apparently done quite a bit of Fuck and Running himself. See, this movie is very concerned with whether gay men (played by straight actors) can have functional romantic relationships in the context of a sexually permissive subculture that is obsessed with youth and beauty. Except it doesn’t take the next crucial step, which is asking why all these handsome promiscuous dudes have such low self-esteem. It’s more interested in being catty about gay culture than critiquing a homophobic society that teaches gays from an early age that romance, commitment, etc. is not for them, that their relationships have no value, and no one could possibly love them because they are, deep down, perverted monsters. Which, fine, it’s a “romantic comedy”—it’s right there in the subtitle! But also, I wonder how The Broken Hearts Club would have been different if The Velvet Rage had been around for Greg Berlanti to read in the 90s.
Later, everyone is playing soft balls, and they are all hilariously bad due to homosexuality. Literally Zack Braff (bucket hat, cargo shorts, wallet chain) and Glasses are making dandelion chains in the outfield, which is #relatable. Also, they are playing against the firemen who are all stupid hot, and everyone thinks one of them has to be gay. Dean Cain says it’s the other team’s catcher (waka waka) who is the “’mo,” but Zack Braff says no, he’s a total “breeder.” And like…I gotta say, all the gay slang and slurs sound extremely terrible coming out of these straight men’s mouths. Anyway… Dean Cain was right! The catcher is a gay-wad and he gets his number.
Young Kevin is also at the game because he and Dean Cain are still kinda dating I guess? And while Dean Cain is doing sports, Timmieopholamet points out Frasier’s dad’s husbone, who is another decrepit old geezer that always wears only purple, so everyone calls him Purple Guy because none of these monsters has ever learned his name or bothered to fucking talk to him due to his hideous elderliness! Literally, Timmypants wonders out loud what Frasier’s dad could possibly see in someone so old and visibly fem, because what kind of sick fuck could possibly love a disgusting old fag???
So, now that Dean Cain has the catcher’s number, it’s time for him to break up with Kevin. Weirdly, everyone takes this extremely personally and they’re all very upset with Dean Cain. But Dean Cain surprisingly wisely points out that that kid is
possibly still in high school not out and doesn’t need a boyfriend right now. What he needs is a group of self-hating dysfunctional co-dependent older gays friends. So, Tolyfonts goes off to befriend young Kevin.
Glasses, however sees right through this nonsense: “He wants to sleep with him.”
Yeeeeah, Timophant’s befriendship is distinctly flirty. He takes Kevin to a gallery and explains gayness to him. Then they wander all over L.A. talking about life and how TO wants to run away to Europe to develop his photographic voice (???), but he can’t because if he strays more than 100 yards from his terrible friends, they will all explode.
Meanwhile, everyone else is at Fasier’s dad’s restaurant where Glasses is ranting about “gay” “cinema.” (Ugh. Oh, no. AM I GLASSES???) “Imagine if they made a film about us? Our group of friends?” Yes. Imagine. But we’ll never know what that might be like, because just then Glasses runs into Justin Theroux, who is on a date, at the bar. Dick move bringing a date to the only restaurant where your on-again-off-again love of your life hangs out and probably also works, Justin Theroux!
Skipper is there too being sad because his sister keeps pressuring him to give his sperm to Nia Long. Fasier’s dad finds him in the kitchen and makes this very…fraught observation:
Fasier’s dad: “Sometimes I wonder what you boys would do if you weren’t gay. You’d have no identity. It was easy when you couldn’t talk about it. Now it’s all you talk about.”
Why, yes, definitely-not-out actor John Mahoney, it sure would be nice not to have to constantly think about and make sense of a marginalized identity! It must be a goddman treat to grow up and not have your entire sense of self defined by your difference and feelings of alienation from literally everyone around you! Sorry that the lifelong project of gay dudes trying to make sense of themselves and advocate for their existence in the context of a homophobic society bums you out so much!
Then Fasier’s dad has to get into drag for his usual Saturday night show, which bums Skipper out! “This plays into the whole gay stereotype!” And now I am bummed out because whenever cis gays talk about “stereotypes” I feel like we’re just admitting how much we hate ourselves. Also, Fasier’s dad’s drag is quite bad. Like, drunk cis straight uncle at his buddy’s amateur roast bad. The kind of half-assed, aggressively noncommittal drag that weirdly actually reinforces the performer’s masculinity. Like, Madison Cawthorn in a bra. *Sigh*
Anyway… Glasses is lurking outside Justin Theroux’s house where they have a big fight because Justin Theroux has moved on. He thinks Glasses is only interested in getting back together now because the new guy he’s seeing is hot. “If he was ugly, you wouldn’t be here right now,” JT accuses. Good god, this movie has such a weird, unsettling preoccupation with attractiveness and how it supposedly factors into these characters’ self-worth. Maybe Jennifer Coolidge isn’t the best therapist… No. That can’t be it…
But now it’s time for another vocabulary word: Gym bunnies, “gay men who eat, sleep and breathe the gym.” Huh? Eat the gym? Sleep the gym? That is a really dumb way to put that, but whatever. It’s muscle gays! Gays who go to the gym all the time—which, you may recall, is the gays that are Zack Braff’s favorite.
At the gym, non-gym bunnies Skipper, Timothy Lollypops, and Glasses are doing stair master while Glasses complains about Justin Theroux’s hot new boyfriend. Next, they’re grilling TO about Young Kevin, who he insists he doesn’t want to sleep with. He just wants to show him the value of gay friendships: “Don’t you see what happens to us? We come out of the closet, we end up getting our hearts stepped on like a Twister game and we end up becoming more bitter than we were in the closet. And the only thing that keeps us from complete despair is the friendships we develop. I just want him to see that before he becomes jaded like us!”
Jesus this movie is bleak.
So, while all this is happening, Zackery Braff is flirting with a gym bunny. (Why bunny?) And of course, Glasses is ALARMED! “Gym bunnies make a bad name for all of us! Their lives revolve around sex and protein shakes! And eating cat tranquilizers!” Hahah! Cat tranqulizers? What a nerd poor Glasses is! But Zack Braff doesn’t care! He is in love and fully intends to let that Gym Bunny hide his cream filled eggs wherever he wants! (Ew.)
Later, Skipper has agreed to hand over his sperms to his sister and Nia Long for procreating because they have convinced him that this will cure his misery about being so ugly. Which…sure. Here’s the problem though: the sister and Nia Long have chosen a heterosexist sperms donation center that doesn’t have any gay porn for Skipper to look at. So, Glasses has to show up with emergency pornos, which is another nice thing for him to be horrible and judgmental about, so he’s having a nice day.
Then there’s a montage of everyone doing dates: Kevin and TO thrift shopping; Glasses being horrible; Zack Braff lifting weights with the Gym Bunny; Dean Cain having sexual tension with the famous “straight” star of the movie he’s in; also Nia Long being pregnant now.
Sometime later, everyone is taking Young Kevin to his first gay club. Which is where we learn that Zack Braff has fallen in with a cabal of party gays and is addicted to ecstasy now. “Blllaaaaarrrgggglleeee,” Zack Braff blargles around the pacifier in his mouth, eyes rolling, and a Vicks inhaler stuck up one nostril while dancing sweatily.
But no one is too worried about that yet, because the next day it’s the Fourth of July, and Brand New Gay Kevin is now fully part of the gay family: sunbathing and getting day drunk and discussing having sex with Morley Safer and Mike Wallace. What a long way he’s come from eating cake in a stranger’s kitchen at night!
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, straight Republican Dean Cain is having an unhealthy affair with his hot closeted married famous co-star and feeling sad and used about it. Uh-oh! Looks like someone is getting a taste of his own emotionally unavailable medicine. Mostly, though, he’s upset about the hot closeted famous movie star calling him an extra to his face. Awe, Dean Cain! Never stop Dean-Caining!
Back in WeHo, it’s still Interdependence Day and Timiphant Chalamet discovers New Kevin once again in the kitchen. “Do you live in this kitchen now?” he says, but then notices that New Kevin is having an EMOTIONS. See, he randomly came out to his parents just now. But, surprise! They didn’t murder him or anything! “Why was I so scared to tell them?” New Kevin marvels. Umm…because due to compulsive heterosexuality, your whole life it has been assumed that you are straight and you’ve been taught both subtly and also explicitly that gayness is wrong and bad and shameful and will result in rejection by all of your loved ones and society? You weren’t the problem, Kevin; they were! Anyway, then TO and Kevin have gay sex to celebrate.
Cut to the next morning when Timopants wakes up
and realizes, Oh fuck me, did I just fuck a teenager?!? is acting all distant and weird because of how he only ever has one-night-stands and is incapable of ever valuing or respecting anyone who would do gay sex with him. Luckily, they have to get to the big soft balls match, where Billy Porter does an improbably triumphant home run! And everyone is happy and celebrating until… Frasier’s dad abruptly dies of a heart failure. Probably I would feel a lot sadder about this if Frasier’s dad hadn’t said all that dumb stuff about life being easier when gays couldn’t talk about gayness. But anyway…
At the funeral, Zack Braff shows up looking all strung out and everyone is mad because he has ditched them all for the Gym Bunny’s fun drugs addicted friends. Then he calls Skipper an ugly fuck! Gaaaah! The most hurtful awful unforgivable thing you can call a gay besides “bottom boy”!
“We make each other miserable!” blargles drug addict Zack Braff and then stumbles away to shoot up some ecstasy with his crack bong.
Meanwhile, New Kevin wants to know why Old Timbo has been avoiding him since they made gay love. “I’m in mourning, you narcissistic child!” TO says. But we all know that’s not really why.
Now a sad montage: the hot closeted straight married famous movie star stands Dean Cain up driving him right into the arms of New Kevin again (Christ, this kid!); at the club, Zachery Braff, drug addict, eats all of the cocaine and also dies—JUST LIKE EVERYONE SAID HE WOULD!!!; in his dark room, TO washes his sad photographs and cries because of how broken his heart is; END OF MONTAGE.
That night, everyone rushes to the hospital where Zack Braff is dead due to drugs and also frivolous gay behavior. Dean Cain arrives basically with New Kevin still clinging to his penis. Tomithy Olypoints is v. jealous and sad and betrayed now. But then, he realizes that he’s kinda been the asshole here for sleeping with a
high school senior 23-year-old (PHEW!) who just came out of the closet and works at Structure. “I’m 28 years old and all I’m good at is being gay!” laments openly heterosexual actor Timothy Olyphant. “I need to make my life into something not completely gay and worthless like chosen family and the fun parties.” (Jesus fucking Christ, this movie really hates gay culture!) He realizes that he’s too fucked up to have a relationship and needs to go off on a journey to find himself.
But first: ZACK BRAFF AWAKENS FROM ECSTASY DEATH! He was just in a coma all along and now will never smoke drugs again! Zack Braff is solved! Cut to: all of Scrubs and also Garden State.
With Zack Braff safely back from the dead, Glasses decides to…go to Justin Theroux’s house again? And…psychotically declare his love for him right there in front of Justin Theroux’s hot new boyfriend? Justin Theroux should call the police and get a restraining order and never ever see Glasses again because he is a sociopath. But instead he’s just like, “Huuuuuuuuhhhhh?”
Next, it’s five months later, and Skipper is fighting with Nia Long during her sonogram. But then the doctor shows them their misbegotten spawn and it cures their hatred of each other. Lesson: babies solve gay misery. The End for them!
At the late Frasier’s dad’s restaurant, it’s Ptolemy Elephant’s going away party because he’s moving to Europe to do photojournalism. For some reason everyone is wearing taupe, which who knows what that’s about? Maybe there was a sale at Structure? But everyone is happy and friends again. Billy Porter is finally over that guy who left him at the beginning of the movie who we never saw. And Justin Theroux is inexplicably back with Glasses, so good luck to them. New Kevin is seeing someone he met at the clurb, but TO is like, “You know I’ll come back from Europe to claim you for myself one day next week.” And New Kevin is like, “I’ll be waiting, daddy!” So their awful dynamic is doomed to continue as well.
Then Skipper reveals the night’s big surprise: A whole wall of Timothy Olyphant’s photos that they have assembled. And in gloriously gay narcissistic fashion, they have all only chosen photos of themselves! Hahahah! Everyone goes off to get drunk and the movie ends with Kevin doing the exact same voiceover that TO did at the beginning about how these horrible guys made him realize it is ok to be a gay, and the cycle of gay trauma goes on. Someone please check on Greg Berlanti. I hope he’s ok.