There are certain fixtures in young adult movies, such as the first-person perspective narrative that introduces and concludes the film, but also having teenagers (usually played by actors in their twenties) caught in an adult drama, exhibiting behaviour and insight way beyond their years. Perhaps a realistic portrayal of a teenager in today’s world would be quite boring, given the increasingly small gaps of living done between screen time. Hence it is recommended to suspend disbelief and allow space when watching the dramatic liaison in Chemical Hearts unfold.
Final year high-schoolers Henry Page (Austin Abrams) and Grace Town (Lili Reinhart) are introduced by their teacher as co-editors of the quarterly school magazine. Grace has just arrived at the school, recovering from an accident which has left her in permanent need of a walking stick. She is exceptionally attractive but simultaneously prickly and distant, and Henry takes an immediate liking to her. Despite much resistance, he cleverly manages to worm himself into her life, and a semblance of a relationship develops. As Grace reveals herself, opening up about the cause of the accident, it highlights her fragile mental state in the aftermath, and Henry may prove too much to handle.
Henry practises the Japanese art of Kintsugi, putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. By embracing their imperfections they become even more beautiful. And you can see his desperate attempts to do so with Grace. Besotted, he pines over her, pushing for more even in the face of Grace’s persistent and strong-held feelings for a past relationship. Her treatment of him proves problematic: aware of his deep feelings for her, she continually reels him in and pushes him away. Hence her plight never manages to pull at the heartstrings; there is more empathy for Henry. As he is piecing her heart back together, he is fragmenting his own.
The film is littered with characters we’ve seen before (although overall there is an avoidance of the typical portrayal of school subgroups): the chummy geeky writing group, the overly confident, eager puppy-dog teenage male lead, and the mysterious and troubled new girl which is seen in Grace. A standout performance comes from Kara Young as Henry’s offbeat sidekick La, with her queer crushes. Yet despite its formulaic nature, there is something original about Chemical Hearts. It doesn’t have the saccharine pitfalls that are part and parcel of teen movies, and doesn’t tidy itself into some improbable happy ending. Like life itself, relationships are more nuanced, often bittersweet: a good lesson to learn early on.
Chemical Hearts is released digitally on Amazon Prime on 21st August 2020.
Watch the trailer for Chemical Hearts here: