Chemical Hearts

This movie was a really pleasant surprise to discover on Amazon. The movie is a sincere and authentic depiction of young adult life.

The film follows Henry Page, played by Austin Abrams, as he embarks on his senior year. He is struggling to find his voice and his perspective on the world as he becomes the editor of the school newspaper. He meets and begins a challenging relationship with Grace Town, played by Lili Reinhart, the mysterious new girl in school.

It’s feels funny describing the plot of the movie because that doesn’t feel like the movie I saw. The movie I saw was a quiet and challenging movie about a relationship that changes two people forever. It has all the trappings of teen romance, but it never feels that way. Cliches moments are turned on their head by an emotional sincerity that often surprised me.

I’d hate to give anything away, but there is a first kiss that happens. It begins very sweet and tentative, but instead of falling into a slow mo kiss set to an 80’s ballad, it shifts into a deeply dramatic and emotionally revealing moment that pushes the characters in new directions.

There’s an emotional honesty on display here that really resonated with me. These two actors are well known for recent tv series, Austin Abrams from Dash & Lily and Lili Reinhart from Riverdale. Having not really seen either I had no prior conceptions of these two and was blown away. Austin Abrams looks and feels like so many people I knew in high school. His stammering unsure ways feel so real. The movie wouldn’t work if Reinhart wasn’t as good as she is. She is devastating. She’s guarded and defensive at times. Other moments she’s like a raw nerve that reacts in unpredictable ways. In early scenes between them, she so guarded and he is so eager to know her that the interplay crackles with a silent tension. He watches her face as though trying to see through a wall. They’re fantastic.

I also love the fact that it didn’t offer up easy answers. Love doesn’t solve all their problems. A romance doesn’t open him up and make him a great writer. High school isn’t the whole world for these characters. The movie creates the vivid impression that it’s characters live lives beyond the frame and into the future.

All that said it’s not the best movie ever. It has some painfully obvious symbolism. Like the more I think about it I can’t believe someone didn’t raise their hand and ask if it wasn’t too on the nose. There are a couple of subplots that don’t really pay off. The parents in the film are kind of window dressing. There is a scene late in the film that feels cheap and melodramatic in a way the rest of the film doesn’t. It feels like it was lifted from a different lesser film. The movie recovers, but it is a misstep.

I accidentally started watching this one. I was looking for something to put on for a quick twenty minutes, but I got hooked. It really worked for me and really resonated. I heartily recommend this movie to anyone looking for an emotional experience, a movie that never settles for easy answers, and that gives two great young actors a showcase to do great work. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

It might not resonate with everyone, but it was my cup of tea. A-

Also, it was shot on 35mm film. I don’t know if that matters to anyone else, but I loved it. It had a real texture at times, and a real softness in certain scenes that added a lot.

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