opinion

Why 'The Broken Hearts Club' remains an underrated gay gem of a movie

Greg Berlanti's 2000 romantic comedy-drama was deceptively progressive in its unshowy portrayal of everyday gay lives, writes Juno Dawson.

2019-08-07

This article first appeared in Attitude issue 311, Summer 2019.

You will almost certainly be aware of Greg Berlanti’s work. The TV mega-mogul, who is gay, is responsible for about half the content on the box. He oversees or is involved in Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash and the forthcoming lesbian Batwoman, as well as being the director of the sweet teen rom-com Love, Simon.

But long before those came a small, cult movie called The Broken Hearts Club. Almost certainly pitched as 'a gay Sex and the City', or at the very least a modernised Boys in the Band, Berlanti’s 2000 directorial debut charts the fortunes of a gay baseball team in Los Angeles.

Impressively, the entire film was shot over just three weeks. For a low-budget production the cast boasts a roster of up-and-comers of the Nineties: the Carrie-like character is sensitive, everyman photographer Dennis, played, by Scream 2 star Timothy Olyphant; Pose’s Billy Porter plays the diva, Scrubs alumni Zach Braff is the vulnerable twink, while the Samantha-esque role goes to former Superman and present Trump-supporting trash, Dean Cain. The cast is helmed by a Mother Goose drag queen portrayed by Frasier’s dad, John Mahoney.

While the baseball team premise holds the characters together, it’s really a device to explore their relationship ups and downs. Based on Berlanti’s own friendship circle, there’s a pleasing normality to their urban family. There is no rejection, homophobia, coming out drama or HIV to contend with. Their sun-kissed lives are frothy, soapy even.

The most hard-hitting part of the plot sees the grooming of Braff ’s character by junkie gym bunnies, and is precognisant of the rise of chemsex, although in this case crystal meth isn’t explicitly named.

The kitchen-sink element does, at times, make me wonder if it would have made a better long-running drama series than a movie, but it’s still heart-warming, occasionally weepy stuff.

Alongside Beautiful Thing or Love, Simon, it’s important that we see LGBTQ people on screen simply living their lives. While the media continues to 'debate' various elements of our existence, there’s a real power in being seen to just get on with it. The characters are flawed, but prettily flawed, and loveable. The message at the end is one of hope: love awaits the young characters.

The dynamics and politics of young gay cohorts will always make for interesting stories. Queer as Folk, The L Word and Boys in the Band are all in various stages of reboot development, while Love, Simon is getting a Disney TV spin-off .

The Broken Hearts Club may lack the grit of, say, HBO's Looking, but it warmed the cockles of my heart. It’s well worth watching again.

@junodawson