By Zoe Kurland.
This emotional hoarder’s life works a bit like an Urban Outfitters version of the Christopher Nolan film Memento: each bizarre object reminds Lucy of an important moment in her life, which in turn, informs her sense of self.”
In 2012, Taylor Swift released her fourth studio album, Red, which contained an unassuming ballad called “All Too Well.” The song describes the emotional detritus of a breakup, what to do with the memories of a shared experience when it’s no longer shared. When the end comes and someone all but disappears from your life, it’s easy to think you may have made the whole thing up. But “I was there,” Swift asserts, “and I remember it all too well.”As Swift describes, the material leftovers of a relationship hold the ability to conjure the past, and not even her ex is immune to this fact. She indicts him in the final verses: “you keep my old scarf from that very first week / ’cause it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me.”
Despite never being released as a single, the song has achieved a kind of cult status among Swift’s fans and critics, often hailed the best one in her catalogue, perhaps because it so vividly begs the question, “when love crumbles, how do you preserve its ruins?” This a question that Lucy, the protagonist of Natalie Krinsky’s debut film The Broken Hearts Gallery, literally asks as she tries to reconcile the end of her past relationships and make sense of the many souvenirs left in their wake. To say that Lucy is the type to keep an ex’s scarf seems too mild a description; her friends deem her an emotional hoarder, as she tends to hang onto seemingly inconsequential (and at times grotesque) items from her past relationships. Her room is a myriad sea of keepsakes, ranging from rubber ducks to neckties, a bag of shoelaces to a retainer. “It was like hooking up in a mausoleum,” says Lucy’s ex. Her life works a bit like an Urban Outfitters version of the Christopher Nolan film Memento: each bizarre object reminds Lucy of an important moment in her life, which in turn, informs her sense of self.
Soon after we meet Lucy, she is tossed into the throes of heartbreak. Compounded with the loss of her job, Lucy comes to the kind of rock-bottom crossroads that presents her with the opportunity to clean house, but she resists.
“You’re living in the past!” says her roommate.
“The past is everything,” says Lucy before collapsing back onto a pile of items, her ex-boyfriend’s tie hanging like a yoke around her neck.
The magic of Viswanathan’s charm and timing makes Lucy’s hoarding, which could easily become a cloying manic-pixie facet, feel like an authentic and endearing trait. Viswanathan’s Lucy is both bombastically confident and shudderingly insecure, but then who isn’t in their mid-20s? When Lucy later states, “if you got to know me, you’d be obsessed with me,” I absolutely believed her. Her Lucille Ball-like physicality lends the film a necessary spontaneity, elevating it beyond streaming-era girlboss tripe and into a bona-fide coming of age film. Lucy is not unlucky in love, she just can’t manage to be present.
The one perk of Lucy’s awful breakup is that she meets Nick (a handsome Dacre Montgomery), who, despite seeming no older than 27, somehow owns a boutique hotel that becomes the site of Lucy’s project, the titular Broken Hearts Gallery, an exhibition of souvenirs from past relationships. Though he asserts that he’s a minimalist, Nick is also deeply invested in the past; “I wanted to make a hotel that reminded me of the places I used to come to in New York,” he tells Lucy. When one sees the finished product, which looks like a shabby-chic ivy league locker room, one must wonder what exactly those places were, but style aside, the pursuit is noble, and represents a different approach to the trappings of nostalgia. Nick externalizes his nostalgia by building a monolith to it, while Lucy’s nostalgia is decidedly messier: in one scene, Lucy literally drags her souvenirs behind her in a trash bag. They are predictable foils, but Montgomery and Viswanathan share the kind of loose and believable chemistry that propels the movie forward.
Krinksy herself seems a fan of nostalgia; the story, with its rainy meet cutes, crumb-laden breakups, and properly outlandish professions, is a clear homage to the tropes of romantic comedies past. Lucy and her roommates, Amanda and Chloe (Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo), with their incomprehensibly large apartment and manicured life, are an offshoot of the kinds of female friends we see in Sex and The City, or more recently, The Bold Type. These women are careerist and driven, somewhat glittering in their pain; if the mascara runs, it doesn’t ruin the look. Krinsky does best when she leans into the whimsy; I was particularly touched by a moment in which Lucy’s roommates comfort her in the manner of a choreographed dance. Slow piano music plays as Amanda and Chloe flutter around Lucy like Bushwick pixies, floating a blanket over her head and presenting her with offerings: wine, ranch dressing and chips. This is an impressionistic touch which speaks to the inherent grace in female friendships, though I do wish I’d seen a bit more of that gripping tear-your-heart-out breakup pain. Fittingly, the last object placed on the pain pile is a DVD of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, an on-the-nose pick for a girl who values memory above all else.
However, these women, Lucy especially, are also bitingly self-aware about what it means to grow up. “No one tells you that being an adult is just walking around feeling like a fraud,” says Lucy. With lines like this, Krinsky complicates Lucy’s hoarder tendencies; to collect souvenirs is to build a defense against feeling fraudulent, to give yourself something concrete to hang onto. In a world in which so many of our connections are intangible, operating in that bizarre, liminal space of the virtual, Lucy’s objects seem like an assertion of presence, a defense against gaslighting, albeit a burdensome one. The flipside of the desire to remember is the fear of forgetting, and furthermore, the fear of being forgotten yourself. Ultimately, Lucy does not let go of her possessions so much as she learns how to validate her own experience. She asserts that she remembers it all too well without the tangible reminders, that memory is enough, and making space for something new does not mean forgetting who you once were.
Zoe Kurland is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She holds a BA in English from Columbia University. Her writing appears in Bright Lights Film Journal, COUNTERCLOCK Journal, The Nonconformist, and more.