Written by: Richard Tanne
Starring: Lili Reinhart, Austin Abrams, Kara Young, Coral Peña, C.J. Hoff, Jordan Adelman
When in love in the teenage years, everything gets oversimplified and very melodramatic where young folks believe they have found the love of their lives with most of these relationships floundering in a matter of months. It’s the nature of how it goes and the young adult genre has made a killing highlighting it all with some truly being insightful and most of them pretty much telling similar stories. Chemical Hearts could be aptly described as the output of feeding a bot all of the young adult novels ever made and having it write a screenplay.
Hopeless romantic, Henry Page (Austin Abrams) has never had a girlfriend to love but has reached his senior year of high school and lands the coveted position of editor at the school’s newspaper. He gets paired with a new girl to the school, Grace Town (Lili Reinhart) and as they get to know each other, they strike a bond and then a romance.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, a bland guy meets this mysterious yet beautiful girl, they fall in love, and then he begins to learn more about her sad past, and plenty of tears flow as he has trouble trying to manage it all. This could sum up many of these young adult novels and seeing it play out in Chemical Hearts makes it painfully clear this film had nothing interesting to bring to the genre. It follows the same layout of having these teens be way beyond their years and thinking about life in a way most adults don’t do but we have to go on this journey regardless.
At the center of this film’s lack of quality is Henry as a character. Uncooked pasta brings more excitement than him as he speaks and acts in such a boring manner. He just navigates through life and the only thing making him remotely interesting is the association he will eventually have with Grace. Everything with Grace works for the most part, as she has a strong emotional arc throughout the story, but I kept running into the wall of wondering why Henry needed to be a part of this story other than being the person asking Grace questions about her past. This could have easily just been her story, as it examines her trauma and why she has a limp requiring her to use a cane and keeps to herself. The revelations made about her past and what she needs to move forward has power to it, as things left right out on the surface can easily get ignored but when it all comes together, it explains her character well enough. Instead, there needs to be a romance between them, which just left me wondering what in the world she finds interesting about him.
Creating a relationship worth rooting for becomes critical to these stories because when the tragedy or breaking point arrives, the audience needs to ache for them to come together because they have established a rapport together. This never quite comes to fruition in Chemical Hearts because Henry never establishes himself as a character to truly care for or pay attention to other than him being the protagonist of the story. Moments where it seemed they were going to break it off made me cheer, which typically would be the opposite reaction the audience should have to the central core of the story.
Ultimately it becomes the Lili Reinhart show in how she looks far too old for playing a high schooler but still puts in a strong performance to capture the pain her character consistently has to keep under wraps. She receives the emotionally charged moments of the film’s climax and shows how she can excel even with lackluster material provided to her. Reinhart does her best to elevate everything else, especially the lack of a co-lead adding anything remotely intriguing to the storyline and as a character.
Chemical Hearts can be thrown into the pile of other young adult novels that hit similar subject matter with less depth each time. It attempts to capture a teenage experience and all it really accomplishes is some good ol’ melodrama. The film has its moments where the emotional buildup leads to something substantive but those moments come too few and far between for something with not much else to provide as a source of enjoyment or appreciation.