Chemical Hearts REVIEW – Overpowering Ennui

Chemical Hearts retreads old, formulaic ground of teen romances; more tame than chemically stirring.

Welcome to Amazon’s Chemical Hearts, where teenagers read Pablo Neruda and miss school buses so that they can trail after the new girl, and hope she has a car that she makes you drive so that you can get back home, a film that fleshes out the angst that comes from being young and feeling so goddamn much. Enter Henry Page (Austin Abrams), a young lad who begins the school year just hoping to be chosen as the editor-in-chief for the school paper, but gets drawn into a world of melodrama involving love interest Grace (Lili Reinhart). Henry is introduced to Grace when they are both chosen to co-edit the school paper, and even though she rejects the position, she stays on to help edit the contributing pieces.

Why is Henry drawn to the mysterious Grace? Was it because she was reading Neruda, and the lines of “I love you as one loves certain obscure things, secretly, between the shadow and the soul” spoke to him so deeply that he just had to know her? Or is it because she is, without a doubt, very lovely? Your guess is as good as mine, but fall for her he does, much to his detriment, because she is too broken to properly love him back.

He discovers Grace’s history, which involved a car crash that took the life of her boyfriend, someone who was so deeply a part of a life in every single way. They had grown up together, so it was more than just getting over a mere high school boyfriend. They even have a Latin couple tagline, which translates to ‘Save me, and I will save you’ – let’s be honest, Henry really stands no chance in setting up camp in her heart.

So Grace mourns for her loss, and Henry watches helplessly from the sidelines (well not really, there is quite a bit of stalking involved), until she starts to let him in. Director Richard Tanne paints lingered moments in school corridors, shared laughter as they work on the school paper – it’s all warm and vibrant before you realise that all Grace is building with Henry is distraction. He distracts her from her pain, and she’s so greedy for that eager love he dispenses that she doesn’t consider the consequences of him finding out.

The emotional angst of it all does remind me of New Moon, where Bella is grieving the disappearance of Edward Cullen, and Jacob Black comes in to fill that void. I mean, Twilight is referenced in Our Chemical Hearts, the book this film is adapted from, so clearly there might have been some inspiration here.

Reinhart and Abrams string out competent performances. Reinhart offers nuance in her portrayal of Grace’s grief, ranging from detachment to a facade warmth, before descending into an outright hysterical grief. Abrams does much to make Henry sympathetic, and he has a difficult job considering how Henry isn’t really a verbal person (writing is his form of expression). The issues crop up when held in juxtaposition, for Reinhart comes across as too mature and Abrams as too young and kiddish. Thus, they never really feel like they work together, so we see the ending even before it happens.

Oh yes, there is also this shoe-horned moment where Henry’s sister comes up to his room to explain to him that love is just really chemicals (for we must reference the title), and in time, your body will eventually get used to not having that person around, and return to status quo. Kind of like the way I feel about this movie.

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Leads Lili Reinhart and Austin Abrams muster up their valiant best, and while their efforts conjure up some authentic spaces and portrayals, the film doesn't distinguish itself in a played-out genre.