James Jay Edwards

Chemical Hearts Hints at Places It Doesn’t Go

(Chemical Hearts, Amazon Studios)

James Jay Edwards reviews Chemical Hearts, a movie written and directed by Richard Tanne and adapted from the Krystal Sutherland YA novel Our Chemical Hearts. (Amazon Studios)

 

Adapting young adult novels into movies seems like a sure-fire way to tap into the teenage market. The built-in audience is tempting. But the movie still has to be good, right?

Chemical Hearts is about a young man named Henry Page (Austin Abrams) who wants nothing more than to be the editor of his high school newspaper for his senior year. On the first day of school, Henry meets a transfer student named Grace Town (Lili Reinhart), who has just as much writing experience as he does, so the teacher makes them co-editors. What initially starts out as a rivalry winds up a friendship, but Henry’s feelings get complicated as he learns that Grace has a few secrets—including the reason why she transferred to his school in the first place.

 

(Chemical Hearts, theatrical release poster, Amazon Studios)

Writer/director Richard Tanne adapted Chemical Hearts from the Krystal Sutherland novel Our Chemical Hearts, which had just the kind of loyal and devoted following that he hoped would spill over onto the film. And fans of the book will definitely flock to Chemical Hearts. But they may be disappointed with the screen translation.

Chemical Hearts is not an unenjoyable movie. It just has identity issues. As far as teen romances go, it’s deeper than most, with better character motivations and more crushing heartbreaks. There are times when Tanne seems to be going to dark places, and these instances are welcomed by the audience. It provides some meat for chewing. Then, just as suddenly as they appear, they’re gone. No darkness, no despair. We’re back to a high school newspaper room. Except now, we’ve got a taste for the meat that Tanne doesn’t provide.

 

(Chemical Hearts, Amazon Studios)

There are peaks and valleys in Chemical Hearts that give it a strange, almost episodic pacing, with new obstacles appearing just as soon as the last ones were conquered. Some of the twists are shocking, which is why the details in this review are purposely vague—the twists are the bread and butter of the film, and they should not be spoiled. There are stunning revelations, heavy-handed symbolism, and tear-jerking heartstring-tugs. You know, Young Adult stuff that should be kept like a secret.

For their part, both Lili Reinhart and Austin Abrams deliver first-rate performances. Whatever emotional impact that Chemical Hearts musters is all because of them, not just separately, but in the chemistry they share while onscreen together. Henry and Grace go from stranger to foil, from friend to lover, and the audience is there for it, mainly because Reinhart and Abrams are there for it. They’re as likable as a pair of moody teenagers can be, and that’s all one can ask for in a movie like Chemical Hearts.

 

(Chemical Hearts, Amazon Studios)

Chemical Hearts will find its audience, mainly because it’s made to do just that. And it may be just what the doctor ordered for that audience. But it’s trapped in a weird place. It’s not as feel-good as it should be, yet it still doesn’t ever get depressed enough to really tear hearts out. There’s some nice catharsis, but no real payoff. Which, ultimately, makes it an unsatisfying film.

 

 

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