Review: Chemical Hearts

Score: A-

Director: Richard Tanne

Cast: Austin Abrams, Lili Reinhart, Sarah Jones

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rated: R

"You're never more alive than when you're a teenage."

Adolescent love is a unique, raw emotion that has proven difficult for filmmakers to capture fully. It's existence, a strict balance between innocence and curiosity, relies as much on the surrounding tone and dialogue as it does the characters' natural chemistry. Richard Tanne's Chemical Hearts challenges that perspective, offering up a rare and, interestingly enough, humbling look at love, loss, and the power of one's clouded heart.

Centered on high school senior Henry (Austin Abrams) and his sudden crush on new classmate Grace (Lili Reinhart), Chemical Hearts excels thanks to its mature and self-respecting approach. Both characters, affluent writers for their well regarded high school paper, are equally well-read and spoken. Their dialogue, advanced beyond their years, brings a cultured and sophisticated approach to an often misunderstood and under-respected demographic.

The characters' presentation goes against many traditional expectations for films centered on young romance; however, its detailed inclusion helps the film paint its literary metaphor, bringing forth its central point without it needing to feel forced.

Additionally, Tanne, who directed and wrote the feature from a book by Krystal Sutherland, shows relentless respect for his viewer. Maintaining the film's place beneath the surface, Chemical Hearts paints with delicate strokes, countering real life's simplicity by forcing its viewer to listen, watch, and dissect the events happening on screen. Visual clues and internal thoughts are critical throughout, allowing all to discover the ways individuals choose to communicate.

These subtle moments allow us to overlook the film's glaring plot inconsistencies, most notably during the second act. Though many moments present themselves as a way to push the story forward, their odd placement and arbitrary inclusion are highlighted by the film's otherwise intelligence and cohesiveness.

As the pieces to the puzzle begin to fall into place, and the romance between our two protagonists slowly blossoms, you can't help but be caught up in the whirlwind of it all. A beautifully choreographed montage helps to speed up senior year's events, and the short clips highlight the beauty and tranquility that comes with love. But under the skin lies so much more, including a pain that though previously mentioned, has not been appropriately addressed.

The fractures in the canvas prove an additional metaphor, highlighting the many literary elements that exist within the film's primary framework. While many will comment that you can't have love without pain, happy without sad, or life without death, Chemical Hearts contains too much soul for such generalization.

The agony, heartache, and frustration that come with uncertainty help bring Chemical Heart full circle, painting a beautiful picture of the complexities that exist within the heart's chemical makeup. The final minutes cement the film in its authentic approach. It is well-rooted in reality, reaching back to the beginning of the school year when two lonely hearts discover one another and yearn for an ounce of understanding. I cannot promise that they find it, but life is all about the journey.

*This film is streaming globally on Amazon Prime.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.