Cinema Review: Chemical Hearts | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, March 25th, 2023  

Chemical Hearts

Studio: Amazon Studios
Directed by Richard Tanne

Aug 20, 2020 Web Exclusive
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In Chemical Hearts, 17-year-old Henry Page (Austin Abrams) is looking for love. Drawn to writing, creating art, and not much else; he enters his senior year of high school with his eyes set on the coveted editor-in-chief position at his school’s newspaper. On the first day of school, he meets Grace Town (Lili Reinhart), an off-beat, quiet, and enigmatic persona with whom he’s been assigned to share his desired newspaper position. The two begin walking together after school, learning about each other, and forming an unconventional friendship.

Adapted for the screen from Krystal Sutherland’s popular, 2016 young adult novel, Our Chemical Hearts, is director Richard Tanne’s follow up to his 2016 indie romantic hit Southside With You. Tanne often opts for playing the “teenage romantic drama” hits instead of finding its own voice. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: the choice works both for the film and against it. The clichés like “a closed personality opening up” and “bonding over a shared school activity” really only plague the film when the characters are first getting to know each other. This results in a mismatched first half, with sloppy pacing and a lot of unclear messaging.

In the much better second half of the film, Tanne juxtaposes the film’s stereotypes with unique themes that are more emotional and relatable than the themes in other films in the same genre. Ideas like grief and helplessness are explored in such bold and unique ways that are never tiring, providing viewers with something memorable and important to take away. This is a testament to the film’s performances as much as the film’s plot.

While Reinhart’s performance is more skillful and memorable than Abrams’, the real spotlight of Chemical Hearts lies between the two’s innate chemistry. Once their characters get on the same wavelength near the middle of the film, their relationship feels so much more genuine than one would expect. The two actors foster a special and realistic bond, and without their connection, it’s quite obvious that the film wouldn’t have any long-lasting effects. So much of the film’s story, especially in the second half, relies on viewers being able to buy into how the two’s emotions affect their harmony. Both Reinhart and Abrams portray these emotions strongly enough, whether alone and together, to give the film another defining factor that makes it much harder to forget.

Chemical Hearts isn’t amazing, and is inherently flawed in its build-up. It’s dragged down by too many clichés, takes a while to find its purpose, and feels repetitive at quite a few points. But at the same time, the film serves as a 93-minute dose of escapism with something to take away when it’s all over. It knows that it’s not perfect, but at the same time, it never really tries to be. The film nevertheless feels fresh, and in a genre plagued by a constant stream of insufferable films such as The Kissing Booth or its even more grotesque sequel, fresh is more than enough.

Author rating: 5.5/10

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