Seventeen-year-old Henry Page (Austin Abrams) has never been in love. He fancies himself a romantic, but the kind of once-in-a-lifetime love he has been hoping for just hasn’t happened yet.
Then, on the first day of senior year, he meets transfer student Grace Town (Lili Reinhart) and it seems all that is about to change. When Grace and Henry are chosen to co-edit the school paper, he is immediately drawn to the mysterious newcomer. As he learns the heartbreaking secret that has changed her life, he finds himself falling in love with her – or at least the person he thinks she is. Written by Amazon Studios
‘Chemical Hearts’ is your typical formulaic teenage film that starts with an unnecessary voice-over which tells us that, ‘You’re never more alive than when you’re a teenager.’ This is said by a boy who’s never been in love so he’s searching for more than what he has experienced thus far. The story then goes on to explain how the chemicals in your body react to everything going on around you, especially since, as a teenager, many of those things are being felt for the first time. For those of you not aware that chemical reactions happen in your body, you’ll be interested in what’s next. Luckily, you’ll stay curious because it’s a fine enough opening so, what else do they have to offer?
We’re introduced to two characters: Seventeen-year-old Henry Page, who owns the voice you’ve already heard. Austin Abrams plays Henry. And then there’s his romantic interest, transfer student Grace Town, played by Lili Reinhart. To some degree, their ‘Meet Cute’ is stale. It’s something you’ve seen in just about every story of teenage love in existence. Two high school students with similar interests seem perfectly fit for one another, yet on of them, Grace, in this case, is against the idea while the other, poor Henry, uses every waking moment to win her over.
Grace is heavily into poetry and, though she’s reluctant to do so, she joins the school newspaper. Henry is a writer who is sucked in by her energy and appreciates that Grace drives him home after school. As they get to know one another more, the words that flow from her lips, especially when she says things like, people are just ashes of dead stars that came together for a short time and then they die, only to start again with a ‘clean slate,’ intrigue him. He’s quite captivated by her and barely notices the other students in the film who seem to be there for more comic relief than anything.
By the way, Grace walks using a cane, which isn’t addressed until about twenty minutes into the film. It turns out she injured her leg in a car accident the previous year. It’s good that the cane, and why she’s using it are finally brought up, but it’s an odd choice to let it go so long before it’s mentioned. I say this because you’re supposed to believe that she’s so adored.
Though they’re getting to know one another, she isn’t very open. She speaks of the car accident but doesn’t say much. When he pries, she says that her past is not up for discussion. Henry finally learns that in the car accident and at such a young age, she lost the love of her life. This hurts her so much that it heavily obscures her look on life, possibly forever. Though his heart beats strongly for her, she doesn’t feel the same. Wait a minute… she does feel the same. Nope! She doesn’t. Wait… a relationship between the two is back on. This becomes maddening.
She mentions how books geared toward young adults tend to be about suicide. Books like ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ and the like, note the pressure put on young people who hate themselves for various reasons. Teenagers have body image issues, and now there’s social media to point out every flaw. With the anguish of a dead loved one living inside of her, and a disability to contend with, is suicide on her mind? Regardless, she’s curt and somewhat cold to Henry. The film goes for the pull at your heartstrings kind of feeling, but the characters never fully develop, and it’s hard to wrap your head around there ever being a connection. The way the story starts turns you off both of them. It’s hard to invest any of your emotions or time into caring what happens to either of them. A loving montage scene doesn’t work to get you fully absorbed in the film. Grace pulls Henry in; she pushes him away… pulls him in again. It’s so frustrating. The title suggests a chemical attraction between the two, but where is it?
The dialogue can be good at times but often it is uninspiring and sophomoric. It can also be rather emotionless and not very realistic. I wanted to like this movie more than I did, but couldn’t. It tries too hard to give us the big dose of dopamine the characters are getting, so that we’ll follow along with empathy and compassion, but not until the end of ‘Chemical Hearts,’ does the narrative really do the job of getting you to applaud what’s going on.
‘Chemical Hearts’ releases on AMAZON PRIME today. Try it and see if it’s a better fit for you than it was for me.
Director: Richard Tanne
Writers: Richard Tanne (screenplay), Krystal Sutherland (novel)
Stars: Lili Reinhart, Austin Abrams, Sarah Jones
Running Time: 93 mins
Genres: Drama, Romance