While high school life is often romanticized in modern media, Amazon Studios’ newest film embraces the dark reality that lies between the lockers.
“Chemical Hearts,” based on the novel “Our Chemical Hearts” by Krystal Sutherland, follows the emotional journey of two high school lovers played by Lili Reinhart (“Riverdale,” “Hustlers”) and Austin Abrams (“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” “Paper Towns”). Richard Tanne writes and directs the feature-length coming-of-age story dealing with trauma, adulthood and the complexity of love.
In every coming-of-age love story, the film is only as strong as its leading cast. Luckily, Abrams and Reinhart magnificently fill the shoes of characters Henry Page and Grace Town. Both of these performances carry and sharply execute the complexities of each character through emotional dialogue delivery and strong chemistry. Town and Page feel and interact like real teenagers. Abram’s line delivery during voice-over monologue sequences feels authentic and insightful to that of an actual teenager.
Reinhart breathes life into the vulnerable yet gentle Grace Town. Her performance during the character’s tougher moments are heartbreaking and emotional. Town’s personality is consistently dynamic, lending itself to a variety of performing styles for Reinhart. At times where Grace is feeling more confident, the performance reflects more that of Reinhart’s “Riverdale” character, while more intimate scenes showcase the actor’s emotional range.
The screenplay explores concepts revolving around identity, adulthood and trauma through dialogue exchanges, monologues and other narrative elements. The conversations and monologues touch on genuinely interesting concepts and philosophies. Henry Page emphasizes that the “scars” of being a teenager are what define someone in adulthood. His monologues push this idea while asking other questions about growing up, filling dialogue-heavy scenes with intriguing insight.
Reinhart’s Grace conveys and explores the different “versions” of oneself as a teenager. She remarks that her old self is shining through when she attends a flashy Halloween party with Henry Page, in a sequence that offers a glimmer of hope beneath Grace’s difficult physical and emotional recovery process. As more about Grace’s tragic past is revealed, her character’s arch becomes more and more rewarding. These discussions about life are often fascinating, although on numerous occasions, it felt as if the characters were no longer talking as teenagers but as if they were the author of a book reciting its core themes.
“Chemical Hearts” features several beautifully shot moments that stand out. One scene showcases Henry and Grace dancing around a dimly lit school hallway, only appearing as silhouettes. It’s a genuinely wholesome moment that visually conveys the freedom of young love amid the dingy corridors of what might be a tough high school experience.
Another beautiful moment takes place within a large abandoned building. Grace, retreating here as a safe space from her home life, shows Henry the hidden beauty within such a broken space. Striking red fish peek their heads out of a dirty pool of water as Grace gestures to Henry. It’s visually interesting and symbolic of the character’s search for light in the darkness.
“Chemical Hearts” is a solid, relatable, coming-of-age love story. While over-expository dialogue and a few cliche moments hinder its effectiveness, the narrative is very much still worth diving into.
4 chemical hearts out of 5