“The Broken Hearts Club” Was So Much More Than a Gay Rom-Com

Billy Porter, a blond Zach Braff, forever-woulds Timothy Olyphant and Justin Theroux—what else could you want this Valentine's weekend?

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If you’re anything like me—single, sexy, and free—you’re alone this Valentine’s weekend. Romantically, anyway. So what better way to spend the alleged holiday than drunk, stoned, and hate-watching some romantic comedies?

Nowadays, queer audiences have a number of choices in the rom-com space, what with Love, Simon, Alex Strangelove, and the brand-new Freeform flick The Thing About Harry. But 20 years ago, we only had a handful of movies that represented the gay romantic experience: films like Jeffrey, Trick, and The Broken Hearts Club.
I remember especially loving The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy, the story of a group of delightfully self-loathing gay pals in West Hollywood who occasionally play softball when they’re not fighting with each other. For all its faults, it was one of the few gay things I could point to and say, “That’s what my life could be.”

Written and directed by Greg Berlanti, who would go on to direct Love, Simon, the 2000 film starred a veritable “Hey, I know who that is” of Hollywood: A woefully blond Zach Braff, erstwhile Superman and current problematic bae Dean Cain, America’s sweetheart Billy Porter, forever-woulds Justin Theroux and Timothy Olyphant, Frasier dad John Mahoney, ’90s teen heartthrob Andrew Keegan, bad bitches Mary McCormack and Nia Long, and a cameo from national treasure Jennifer Coolidge.

“I had always loved the movie Diner,” Berlanti told Entertainment Weekly last year. “I felt like at the time there was no gay Diner. There was no movie that kind of captured the spirit of young gay friendships as I knew them at that particular moment in the late ’90s in West Hollywood.”

Olyphant is Dennis, the Carrie of the group in that he’s sort of the moral center but is blind to his own faults; Cain is pretty boy actor Cole, who everyone wants to be and therefore resents; Braff is twink Benji, who gets involved with a coke-loving gym bunny; Porter is Taylor, who finds himself single and reeling from a breakup; Mahoney is Jack, the group’s elder and the proprietor of the restaurant where some of the gays work; Matt McGrath is adorkable Howie, who’s still sleeping with his stoner ex Marshall (Theroux); and Ben Weber is the terribly insecure Patrick, who ends up donating his sperm to his sister Anne (McCormack) and her partner Leslie (Long).

Though not nearly as self-loathing as The Boys in the Band—besides Diner, the film’s most obvious spiritual ancestor—the boys in this club bemoan yet embody gay stereotypes, obsess over male beauty, and generally debate the existential crisis of being a modern gay man. It’s all very melodramatic, made even more so by Jack’s death and Benji’s nonfatal drug overdose, which, naturally, brings the gang back together.

While there are a few central romances in The Broken Hearts Club—particularly Dennis and the freshly out Kevin (Keegan), as well as Howie and Marshall and Anne and Leslie—the film really is more concerned with the bonds of friendship. Kind of like how Sex and the City isn’t really about the men, but the relationships between the women. Seeing as half the cast of The Broken Hearts Club was on SATC at one point—some even twice—the comparison seems quite apt.

“A lot of people ask me when I first knew I was gay,” Dennis says in a voiceover that bookends the film. “Fact is, I don’t know. Can’t remember. What I do remember, what I can recall, is the moment I first realized it was okay. It was when I met these guys, my friends.”

I think that’s why I loved The Broken Hearts Club so much. While I’m still single, sexy, and free, my friends have remained my one constant and have been the true loves of my life.

That said, if Justin Theroux is available, I’d happily throw them all over and never talk to them again. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat