Natalie Krinsky does not want to be the exception to the rule. When the first-time filmmaker was hired to direct “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” after her script landed on the Black List nearly a decade ago, even she didn’t quite believe it. Krinsky may be a fledgling filmmaker, but she’s been in the industry long enough to know this opportunity is a rare one for female filmmakers — even when they write their own scripts. Now her charming rom-com hits select theaters this week, and she only wants to see this mold broken more often.
“It can happen to you! I am here to tell you, you too can be treated like a straight white guy,” Krinsky said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “I can be the urban legend that floats around. We should just start treating each other like straight white guys and then the rest of the world will follow suit.”
“The Broken Hearts Gallery” follows Lucy, a twentysomething gallery assistant who is consistently unlucky in love. (She’s portrayed by Geraldine Viswanathan, fast becoming one of Hollywood’s most exciting leading ladies.) She moons over her failed relationships, meticulously saving mementos from each of her love affairs. After yet another romance goes awry, Lucy and her pals (and a cute new male friend) cook up a crazy idea: What if she created a space for everyone to share their broken-hearted mementos?
The 2011 Black List placement got Krinsky’s name out there, and soon she wrote episodes for series like “Gossip Girl” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” She had almost let go of the script by the time Canadian-American production company No Trace Camping, which had previously made films like Oscar winner “Room” and fellow rom-com “What If,” came calling.
“You mourn your scripts and you kind of put them away and you say to yourself, ‘One day, I’ll revive this,’ but you move on,” she said. “And then No Trace Camping came to me and they said, ‘We’ve read your script, and we love it and we want to make it.’ I was like, ‘LOL, I love it, and I want to make it too. Cute joke!’ They were like, ‘No, seriously, we want to make this movie.'”
Tasked with a “quick rewrite” (a concept Krinsky still laughs at, but one she gamely approached), the filmmaker got to work. And there was plenty of work to be done. “Of course, you read something from five or six years prior and, as a writer, you’re like, ‘I would rather be buried alive than read something I wrote six years ago,'” Krinsky said. “I thought it needed a lot of work, and I shared with [my producers] what I thought the movie should be and what it should look like. And they said to me, ‘Would you ever want to direct it?'”
Krinsky said she was prepared to prove her chops — “What do you need me to do? Do you want me to act it out for you or make a reel? What do you need from me in order to trust me to do this?” — but the No Trace Camping team didn’t require it. “They said, ‘Just say yes. You know what this movie is. Do it,'” Krinsky remembered. “And I said, ‘Thank you for letting me know what it feels like to be a straight white guy. I will absolutely take you up on this opportunity.'”
A rom-com devotee, Krinsky was inspired by everything from “When Harry Met Sally” to “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Broadcast News,” but she was also inspired by her own life. “I was maybe 26 years old when I wrote the first draft of the script, I was living in Los Angeles, struggling writer, been fired from my job, broken up with my long-distance boyfriend who was terribly unreliable human being,” Krinsky said. “I was moving out of my apartment into my first alone, grownup apartment, even though I was very far from being a grownup or anything close to it.”
As Krinsky dug through her own relationship detritus, she heard about a museum of broken relationships in Croatia. “I was like, ‘God, that’s a movie and my life right now is the beginning of a romantic comedy,'” she remembered thinking. “No job, no boyfriend, no home. Perfect!”
When she revisited the script nearly a decade later, the filmmaker wasn’t precious about the changes she needed to make. “Lucy as a character stayed very true, because she’s me at 25 and it was still me at 25, but as you continue to write, you just learn,” she said. “For me, it was just story and pacing and the character of Nick and how the two of them sort of came together and interacted. So a lot of the story beats changed, but the character stayed really true.”
Despite basing Lucy on herself at a tender age, Krinsky didn’t have rigid casting ideas beyond wanting to do something different than the genre usually dictated. “I did not want to make a romantic comedy starring the same type of woman we’ve always seen in a romantic company,” she said. “I didn’t want to make that movie.”
Eventually, they landed on a diverse cast of rising stars, including her “genius” star Viswanathan, along with “Stranger Things” breakout Dacre Montgomery, “Pitch Perfect” star Utkarsh Ambudkar, “Hamilton” standout Phillipa Soo, “Booksmart” supporting star Molly Gordon, “SNL” newbie Ego Nwodim, and the beloved Bernadette Peters as Lucy’s crazy boss. Krinsky said her time working on “Grey’s Anatomy” made her believe inclusive, colorblind picks were possible.
“I approached casting with that sort of attitude and that idea,” the filmmaker said. “I think that one of the great things that Shonda Rhimes has done for casting in general is that [she inspired me to] never set out and say, ‘This person is this ethnicity, and this person is that ethnicity.’ I wanted to put together a group of friends that looks like a true group of friends, that looks like New York. That’s what we did. It wasn’t filling quotas or boxes, but it was an ethos that we approached the film with. That was extraordinarily important to me.”
Krinsky, who has busy been raising a four-year-old and is pregnant with her next kid (she gave birth a month early, on Labor Day), is now writing an adaptation of the Gillian Flynn short story “The Grownup” for Universal. She’s also trying her hand as a producer, including an adaptation of Gayle Lemmons’ “Ashley’s War” (which follows the “first all-female special ops team to go into Afghanistan before women were technically allowed on the front lines”) and Warners’ big-screen take on Brit Bennett’s lauded debut novel “The Mothers.” Krinsky will not direct either project, she said, and she is instead intent on finding “the right person to tell them.”
She wants to see a similar ethos in the rom-com world. “I really hope that it can continue to push itself in all kinds of directions and display all kinds of different people,” Krinsky said. “We’re all human and all fall in love, and we all experience pain and grief and loss. The couple in the center of my film is a straight, cisgender couple, but I hope that we can see love in all different forms and begin to appreciate it and also see various types of people occupy those roles.”
Sony will release “The Broken Hearts Gallery” in select theaters September 11.
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