Written by: Hannah Tran | August 21st, 2020
Chemical Hearts (Richard Tanne, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
When new student Grace Town is selected to help hopeless romantic Henry Page edit the school newspaper, Henry’s world begins to shift as he finds himself falling in love with the person he believes her to be. But after learning more about the tragic accident that brought her there in the first place, Henry is forced to confront the fact that her reality may not exactly align with his hopes for a future together. Building a believable and nuanced tale that perfectly balances the excitement of young love and the heartache of the grieving process, this is the story of Richard Tanne’s sophomore film Chemical Hearts. And while it may borrow heavily from its influences, it’s a movie that will undoubtedly touch the hearts of those willing to remember the pains of making it through teenagehood.
While Chemical Hearts boasts interesting music choices and literary references that feel truthful to what the modern teenager of this ilk would indeed be engaging with, it unfortunately relies too heavily on these elements to create emotion. As in most teen movies, the teens here don’t talk like the average teenager would. But here it is taken a step further, and their conversations about atoms and stars feel as if they’re directly ripped out of the pages of a John Green novel. While their words may be eloquent, they never feel quite relevant, consistent or intelligent enough to have any impact on the story.
But while moments of Chemical Hearts may at times feel overly familiar, its broader story still manages to evoke a surprising amount of genuine emotion. Tanne’s touching exploration of loss, heartbreak and youth is supported by his patience when it comes to revealing more information, especially in regard to his characters. And the characters, furthermore, become exceptionally more interesting as the story goes on, Tanne (Southside with You) introducing a number of surprises that help them develop beyond their pseudo-mysterious exteriors (also typical of the genre).
The striking performances further elevate these characters, Lili Reinhart (Hustlers) being the standout. Her measured approach to the tragic character of Grace shows a deep understanding of the character, her pain, and her untapped strength. Euphoria’s Austin Abrams works perfectly as the sweet and relatable character of Henry. Meanwhile, Sarah Jones (For All Mankind), as Henry’s sister, shines in a small, but unique, role that fits perfectly into the tone of the movie and makes for some of its most reassuring and compelling moments. Although certain moments of Chemical Hearts may feel somewhat unoriginal, its dedication to its story and characters makes for a fulfilling and engaging take on certain themes that are not only rarely seen in the teen romance genre, but are handled with immense care and sensitivity.