Chemical Hearts sounded intriguing, ordinary teens but with a mystery surrounding the transfer of one to a new school. It sounded liked it had possibilities and after viewing, that assessment was correct. Chemical Hearts develops the story of two teenagers who on the surface seem ordinary but in delving into their relationship, presents a beautiful portrayal of the teen experience with compelling characters, and reaches into unexpected depths to explore the impact of grief and the messy complications of teen love.
Chemical Hearts written, produced, and directed by Richard Tanne is billed as a romantic drama based on the novel Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland. In the movie, we meet Henry Page (Austin Abrams), a teenage student who is a hopeless romantic but he has never fallen in love. He inspires to be the editor of the school newspaper but all of his focus shifts when he meets Grace Town (Lili Reinhart), a mysterious transfer student. They are partnered together to work on the paper and over time, he falls in love with her. As he discovers her secrets, he realizes that the Grace he knows is not the full picture but does he love her, or does he only love who she is for him? And what will he do when she needs something beyond love from him?
What I found most compelling about this film is how ordinary it begins. The teenagers meet at school after Grace transfers and are asked to work together on the paper. Henry is a writer, aspiring to be editor of the paper and go to a good university. There is nothing terribly unique about him or Grace. We quickly find out Grace was in an accident, obvious from the cane she carries to walk with but it is her silences that create the intrigue. The characters lack stereotypes, both the main characters and Henry’s friends on the paper. None of the teens are one dimensional and all of them are portrayed as unique individuals with a spectrum of identity and sexuality that is presented as every day. And while Henry’s emotions lead him on a path that could be destructive, the writing veers off into unexpected places and carries the story into being one about helping each other with our demons and struggles rather than just another love story.
The title and plot refer to the chemical reactions that we all go through in our journey through our teen years and it is a beautiful presentation in the teen experience, adding in how emotions and identity can be skewed by grief and how this particular pair deal with the messy complications of grief and love. One idea that is explored is how scars are a creation of who we are, not a destruction, and that like broken vase pieces together, it is those flaws that make us beautiful, unique individuals.
Another aspect that makes this so beautiful is the authenticity and honesty in the interactions between characters. When the pair communicate, they express themselves with honesty. Grace does not expect Henry to like her, she even asks him frankly if he has a girlfriend or a boyfriend. When they engage in a sexual relationship, she tells him what she wants and doesn’t expect him to just know or be experienced. The other characters talk to each other instead of playing games. While shyness plays a part, none of the characters are less than genuine and authentic in their identities and their expression of who they are. And with that honesty, comes some beautiful dialogue fueled by insightful poetry and haunting ideas.
The beauty of this film lies in the chemistry of the pair of actors. They interact with each other in such an exquisite, authentic way. The dynamic between them is rich and full of depth as Henry attempts to understand Grace and as Grace slowly opens up to him about her past and the pain in her life. The exploration between the pair is deftly portrayed by both actors and both are equally skilled in their presentation of the messy complicated emotions between them. Beyond the pair, the other actors in the film are excellent, both Henry’s friends and his family, emotional and genuine.
While the film is predictable at points and is not groundbreaking, it is the way it handles the complex emotional state of both Grace’s grief and the messy complications between the pair that makes this film so engaging and interesting. It is not unique but in that way, it is the truths in the movie about the similarities all of us have dealt with in our teenage years that explore what it means to be a teenager and what it means to grow up with scars and trauma. It is what it means to help each other and how each of us reaches out to the people around us that are so unique to this film. I found it incredibly beautiful, both in that exploration between the characters and in the theme of grief. It is messy, emotional, and reminds me of some of the best teen writing I have ever read in the way it encapsulates what it means to be a teenager. If you have a teenager, if you want to recall those messy years or you just love beautiful drama, I highly recommend Chemical Hearts.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 messy emotions.
Chemical Hearts streams Friday, August 21, 2020, on Amazon Prime Video.