Film history offers countless cautionary tales about the hazards of making a romantic comedy. For every solid example with gender-spanning appeal, there are dozens of bombs that have people racing home to relive the genre’s heyday with yet another viewing of “Annie Hall.”
It’s possible that only a true visionary can save the species. Unfortunately, Juddy Talt, the writer and star of “Language of a Broken Heart,” is not that person. His inoffensive, if uninspired, indie feature fails on the most basic tenets: It’s neither very romantic nor very comedic.
New York resident Nick (Talt) has the smarts to pen a best-selling novel about love, but he’s missing a microchip when it comes to hanging on to girlfriends. Every single one of his many relationships has followed an identical pattern: boy meets girl, boy becomes obsessed, girl cheats. This sequence emerged with Nick’s first girlfriend, in third grade. So it seems Nick must lack some self-awareness when it happens yet again, well into adulthood, this time with his cold British live-in girlfriend.
The brokenhearted writer decides he needs to make a big change, which sounds promising. He could certainly benefit from a trip into the woods, or some similarly love interest-free zone, to ponder the root of this cause and effect. But Nick doesn’t revise so much as revert; he heads to his small home town and moves back in with mom.
There, he reconnects with his loyal best friend, Cubbie (Ethan Cohn), spends quality time with his free-spirited mother (Julie White) and meets Emma (Kate French), a loopy, bespectacled bookstore owner who obviously will become Nick’s next obsession.
The problem with the story is that audience members might find themselves rooting against Nick, silently pleading for him to stop jumping from one failed relationship to the next. He’s needy and, though clearly not dangerous, has some stalkerlike tendencies. The characters in the movie refer to Nick as either bighearted — he loves too much — or quirky. But his idiosyncrasies are not nearly as evident as his extreme averageness. As a character, he lacks any verve, and as an actor, Talt is missing a key ingredient: charisma. He often comes across as a more wooden Ashton Kutcher.
In place of real romance, the film settles for cutesy, although the twee touches add little.
Beyond a stream of indie songs, inserted to add some element of emotion, the scenes are punctuated by pencil drawings on yellow lined notebook paper, needlessly prefacing the next chapter in the film’s story.
Just as the romantic aspect of the film feels discomfiting, the comedy follows suit. One recurring gag involves Nick accidentally walking in on his naked mother.
Credit is due to some strong supporting players. Cohn and White earn extra points for adding warmth to their characters even amid the stilted dialogue.
But bright spots are few in “Language of a Broken Heart,” which seems to confirm that crowd-pleasing romantic comedies are either dying or in a very deep hibernation. Why spend time belaboring the point when we could be scheduling our standing date with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton?
R. At Regal Gallery Place. Contains sexual references. 98 minutes.