Chemical Hearts Review: Abrams and Reinhart create some effective chemistry on-screen
Recently, Amazon Prime added the latest addition to the coming of age romance genre with writer/director Richard Tanne’s adaptation of Krystul Sutherland’s novel Our Chemical Hearts.
The film, titled Chemical Hearts, follows Henry Page (Austin Abrams) – a normal, but unsure senior who’s love of poetry and writing shows that he’s truly a hopeless romantic, but has never actually been in love. Thus, he throws himself into his studies and aspires to become the editor of his high school newspaper so that he can get into a good college. Just as the start of his final year, his dreams of being the editor come true, but he must share duties with a new classmate named Grace Town (Lili Reinhart). Grace heavily secludes herself and hides secrets about her past that seem to be connected to a leg injury she has that makes her walk with a cane. Although their initial partnership is sort of forced, the two begin to grow a close bond that not only brings their issues to light, but also make them develop deeper feelings for one another.
On the surface, Chemical Hearts just seems like it’s another one of those sick/down on their luck kids falling in love movies we’ve been overloaded with for the past decade or so. The film harnesses all of angst and inner hardships anyone relates with high school as well as the philosophical thoughts about love, life, and growing up that we’ve come to expect from these kinds of films. The film suffers from a lack of believability that stems from the fantastical dialogue that’s almost straight out of a Shakespeare story. For characters like Henry and Grace, who are obsessed with poetry, writing and philosophical thought, it could make sense to hear them take like every once in a while. However, every scene carries this tone and creates this Shakespearean feel to the film that strip away the realism for a fantastical sense of love that isn’t all that compelling or original.
Even the ways that Tanne attempts to add in some “scientific” ways of thinking about love that also come off odd and a little out of place. There’s one sequence where Henry’s older sister Suds (Sarah Jones), who is going through a rough breakup throughout the film, attempts to console him by talking about how his body is reacting to things to make him gain a better understanding of his feelings. The scene itself is fine and Jones’ delivery is really strong, but the whole scientific explanation comes off the film is trying to be clever and its meaning never reaches the same lengths as when the dialogue is much more natural. Frankly, most of the big monologue from her doesn’t hit the emotional levels that it does when she reveals to Henry how she’s moving on. This, along with the chemical effects that are just thrown in throughout the movie, are indicative of how Chemical Hearts unnecessarily puts more effort into more floaty philosophical execution rather than just getting to the point of its meaning to create more effectively emotional moments.
However, even for it carrying the same kind Shakespearean tone of love and growing up that the genre has basically turned into a giant trope, Chemical Hearts still manages to tell a compelling story that gets at its characters flaws. At its core, there’s definitely a very intriguing and, at times, heart-wrenching story about love and death that manages to remain latched onto your heart. Henry’s craving for love, but fully understanding how to achieve it makes you instantly care for him and even see how genuine he tries to be to those around him. Grace’s side of things is easily the most gut-wrenching and effective part of the film as it touches on how people end up becoming tortured souls when they lose something, or someone, close to them. As her tragic past begins to become more and more clear, you can feel your heart being torn apart in the same way that Henry’s is and its because of how complex her situation is.
The way that Chemical Hearts questions death and teenage years is very interesting and provides a unique look at how death can consume someone. There’s some great questioning as to how we remember those that are gone and how to let go. Henry even tells an interesting story about how a classmate’s suicide affected him and it’s one of the more down to Earth ways that Chemical Hearts effectively hits its emotional beats. Even the way the film gets at Grace’s inner struggles to get over a tragic loss and how she continues to remain haunted by it really hits this emotional resonance that’s easy to connect to. Not to mention, the lead performances from Abrams and Reinhart are so great that they immediately make you care about every instance they’re on-screen.
Henry and Grace aren’t written like a typical nerd/loner and popular girl falling in love because they’re not that easy to put in a box like that. Although Henry has a good family, loyal friends, and a solid chance at attending a great college, he’s still struggling to find himself and Abrams expertly brings this out every step of the way. All of the unsureness, curiosity, and genuine care that Abrams shows throughout the film makes Henry such an intriguing character and someone that you genuinely grow to care about as a viewer.
Reinhart, who also makes her debut as a producer here, is equally as incredible as she evokes all of Grace’s trapped pain with a realistic, subtle hurt. Even when she’s at her low points, Reinhart perfectly shows how Grace is attempting to move past her trauma but is just unable to do so. It’s a performance that captures all of the complex emotions of grief and hurt that yanks and pulls on every viewer’s heartstrings. Together, Abrams and Reinhart really make you care for Henry and Grace that makes them immensely likeable and watching them go through everything together incredibly compelling.
Although Chemical Hearts can’t fully escape the floaty philosophical execution that makes it all too familiar to other films in the coming of age/romance genre, it does find ways to hook onto your heart when it’s exploring its characters’ down to Earth flaws and lets the incredible performances from Reinhart and Abrams capture and evoke the film’s compelling views of love and death.