The latest adaptation to hit streaming services comes courtesy of Krystal Sutherland’s young adult novel, Our Chemical Hearts. Billed as an irresistible story of first love, broken hearts, and the golden seams that put them back together again, could this be the next big thing in teen dramas?
Written and Directed by Richard Tanne, Chemical Hearts centres on Henry Page (Austin Abrams), an average seventeen year old who’s passionate about writing, yet his “unremarkable” life gives him little to draw from. His aspiration to become the school newspaper’s editor-in-chief connects him to mysterious transfer student Grace Town (Lili Reinhart). The two grow closer as they co-edit the newspaper, with Henry quickly finding himself falling for her. But the tragic circumstance surrounding Grace’s move seemingly still haunt the talented young woman, leaving Henry confused and uncertain about their relationship.
Much like previous doomed teen romances The Fault in Our Stars and All The Bright Places, Chemical Hearts is packed full of melodrama. The central characters revel in the supposed deeply emotional turmoil of being a teenager, with certain gems such as “being young is so painful, it’s almost too much to feel” heavily dotted throughout the cliched script. On top of that, Reinhart’s Grace spouts Pablo Neruda poetry and bathes in a pond full of koi in an abandoned house. Now don’t get me wrong, teen coming-of-age films are my all time guilty pleasures; Hailee Steinfeld’s The Edge of Seventeen and Booksmart are definitely up there for peak genre outings, progressing the female voice in teen films. On the other hand, there’s this sense of a problematic relationship in Chemical Hearts, mostly due to Henry’s unsavoury actions (I’m pretty sure he stalks her a couple of times), along with his inflated saviour complex.
Personally, I think one of the main gripes was the fact that Grace was portrayed as broken with her disability. The overtly metaphorical link between Henry’s bizarre kintsugi hobby, the Japanese art of literally smashing a vase and glueing it back together, and Grace’s injury just left a bitter taste. “I’m not one of your f***ing vases, ok? So stop trying to fix me,” too right, Grace. Occasionally there’s an intriguing exploration of trauma and grief following a loss that comes to the forefront of the film, unfortunately it just doesn’t come to light enough, resulting in a disappointingly hollow affair. Perhaps if the relentlessly introspective monologues from Henry were giving a back seat to an insight into Grace’s world, this would have made for a more interesting and balanced film.
The film is pretty much reliant on the two leads, with a number of the supporting cast left with little substance, but thankfully there’s strong performances from both Abrams and Reinhart. The Riverdale and Hustlers star is the real standout, commanding the screen with heartbreaking frustration and despair. The soulful Austin Abrams channels Timothee Chalamet/Cole Sprouse in an artsy, superficially ‘deep’ lead, but his motivations really are questionable. He seems so desperate to be experience love and find a muse, that this mysterious new student equates to his manic pixie dream girl.
Chemical Hearts tries to subvert the genre with its unconventional ending, but the outdated source material feels like a step back in comparison to similar coming-of-age films like Booksmart, Ladybird and Love, Simon. Lili Reinhart is a real talent however, I can’t wait to see her next project,