Movie: "Chemical Hearts"
Release Date: Aug. 21, 2020
Director: Richard Tanne
Runtime: 1 hour 33 minutes
Genre: Drama, romance
Following "Southside with You," Richard Tanne's lovely 2016 debut film about Barack and Michelle Obama's first date, writer/director Tanne ventures into young adult territory with "Chemical Hearts."
Based on Krystal Sutherland's novel, "Our Chemical Hearts," the movie details the romance between Henry Page and Grace Town, two seniors who work for their high school newspaper. As they grow together, tragic secrets are revealed that shape the course of their relationship.
Does the plot sound familiar? If so, you're not entirely wrong. YA adaptations nowadays can firmly be divided into either romantic dramas or science fiction dystopia with little room in the middle. The story of "Chemical Hearts" has been done a lot better ("The Spectacular Now," "The Fault in Our Stars"), but it's also been done a lot worse ("Paper Towns," "After"). That being said, there's a sense of maturity that sets this film apart from its contemporaries.
Starting with the positives, leads Lili Reinhart ("Riverdale") and Austin Abrams ("Brad's Status") have great chemistry, as one would expect for a film with this title. They each bring a naturalism to the material without ever drawing attention to themselves. Their romance never feels contrived or unearned.
The movie also plays things fairly low-key, which was a nice change of pace. Oftentimes in these films, the characters will make drastic decisions that completely throw off the reality and relatability of the world, thus taking you out of the experience. Luckily, that's not the case here.
However, the biggest blunder "Chemical Hearts" makes is not doing enough to make itself stand out. While thankfully not relying on the John Green formula of making the relationship a ticking time bomb of tragedy, it still veers into melodramatic territories.
The side characters weren't as interesting as the movie wanted us to think, forcing Reinhart and Abrams to carry the material on their shoulders the whole way through. Story-wise, it follows the typical beats of the genre, so you won't find much in the way of originality.
But, at the end of the day, "Chemical Hearts" has a beating pulse that is ripe with emotional honesty and intimacy. It could have gone down the unfortunate rabbit hole of making Grace a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she is a developed enough character without Henry having to project his fantasies onto her. It avoids the tropes of giving each character a specific quirk to define them, allowing Henry and Grace ample space to mature.
Featuring two great performances from Reinhart and Abrams, astute direction from Tanne, rich cinematography and a nice soundtrack, "Chemical Hearts" is sure to satisfy your YA fix. It doesn't do much to reinvent the wheel, but that's not always a bad thing.