Amazon UK film review: Chemical Hearts
Matthew Turner | On 22, Aug 2020
Director: Richard Tanne
Cast: Lili Reinhart, Austin Abrams, Sarah Jones, Adhir Kalyan, Kara Young, Coral Peña, C.J. Hoff
Watch Chemical Hearts online in the UK: Amazon Prime
Written and directed by Richard Tanne, this supposedly romantic teen drama is adapted from the novel Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland. Unfortunately, it fails to convince on every level, thanks to a cliché-ridden script, flat performances and lacklustre direction.
The film centres on 17-year-old high school student Henry Page (Austin Abrams), whose romantic desire to be a writer is hampered by his general lack of life experience. On the first day of senior year, he meets new girl Grace Town (Lili Rheinhart) when they’re paired together on the school paper. As they spend time together, Henry falls hard for Grace, but it soon transpires she’s harbouring a mysterious secret that threatens to pull their tentative relationship apart.
Tanne’s script gets off to a bad start with a ridiculous conceit that involves Grace (who has a bad leg) giving Henry a lift home (with him driving her car) and then walking home herself because she doesn’t like driving. It’s meant to be part of her mystery, but it backfires considerably because it immediately casts Henry in a poor light for not driving her home once he realises.
The script is chock full of moments that fail to ring true, and it becomes increasingly irritating. Grace’s unreasonable behaviour forms a large part of the plot, but even allowing for a bit of leeway, it’s entirely unconvincing. Apart from anything else, the script doesn’t give a reasonable explanation for why she can’t just tell Henry the truth in the first place.
Rheinhart is an accomplished actor, as Riverdale proves, but there’s a palpable lack of enthusiasm in her performance here. Consequently there’s no chemistry between her and Abrams, and the romance angle falls flat as a result. On top of that, her big emotional scenes feel forced.
Abrams isn’t much better either, to the point where there’s a whole scene that’s meant to be about how heartbroken he is, and it plays like that’s the first he’s heard about it. Similarly, the movie tries to convince you the lead character’s writing is great when it really, really isn’t.
Normally in a film like this you can at least rely on the quirky supporting cast for a few laughs, but here, they’re so thinly written that they might as well not exist. Henry has two best friends, one of whom (Kara Young) gets a token lesbian romance subplot, while the other (CJ Hoff) barely even has any lines. The only decent supporting performance comes from Sarah Jones as Henry’s older sister, a recently heartbroken medic who delivers the speech (about brain chemistry) that gives the film its title.
In fairness, though the film is mostly predictable, it does pull off at least one surprise twist, but even then, it’s not enough to sustain interest in the desperately dreary plot. It would have helped considerably if any of the characters had been given any depth at all, but that’s just not the case. As it is, this is a tedious experience that’s best avoided. Track down Me and Earl and the Dying Girl instead.
Chemical Hearts is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.