“Chemical Hearts”, which was recently released on Amazon Prime, looks plain and predictable at first but then comes to engage us more than expected. Yes, this is another case of troubled adolescent romance, but it distinguishes itself a bit via considerable sensitivity and personality, and it is also supported well by the good chemistry between its two lead performers.
Austin Abrams, who feels quite different from his vicious supporting role in “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” (2019) here, plays Henry Page, a senior high school student who is about to apply for the position of the editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper. At the beginning, this shy but smart kid confides to us on how plain and uneventful his life has been since his birth, and he also laments on how he has been unlucky in case of adolescent romance, but he is not particularly interested in pursuing love because, so far, writing has always come first for him.
However, there comes a change to him via a girl who also applies for that position in his high school newspaper shortly after being transferred to the school. Her name is Grace Town (Lili Reinhart), and she and Henry come to work together under the guidance of their supervising teacher, but she is not so particularly interested in getting to know her partner more even though they are going to work along with a number of other schoolmates during next several months.
When Henry happens to miss his school bus after their school time is over, Grace suggests that he should use her car instead, and he gladly accepts her offer. While they walk together to where her car is, something mutual seems to be developed between them, but she still does not talk much about herself, and he naturally becomes more interested in her – especially while reading a poetry book he borrows from her.
After he imparts her some thoughts on a certain poem written by Pablo Neruda, Grace lets Henry come into her private life a little more than before. At one point, she takes her to an abandoned factory which has been her own small private place and even has a pond full of colorful kois. As talking more with her, Henry comes to notice a certain Latin phrase on the wall, but she does not tell him its meaning while still being quite reticent about her family and her life before being transferred to his school.
It does not take much time for Henry to come to learn of an incident which seriously damaged Grace physically and mentally, but he chooses to keep quiet about that because remembering the incident again may hurt her feeling, and they continue to work on several upcoming issues of their high school newspaper. At one point, Grace happens to discover a common theme among several literature works chosen for their class, and she and Henry instantly agrees that it will be a good starting point for developing separate themes for each of these upcoming issues.
As they and their colleagues work together day by day, Henry and Grace come to feel more of their developing mutual feeling, and Henry eventually decides to come a bit closer to Grace, but, of course, she turns out to be quite a mess. As reflected by a bold gesture of hers, she is really attracted to him, but it is also apparent that she still remains quite confused and agonized over what happened to her during that incident, and that certainly makes Henry baffled and frustrated.
As tenderly following the dynamic interactions between its two lead characters, the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Richard Tanne, which is adapted from young adult novel “Our Chemical Hearts” written by Krystal Sutherland, is often a bit too symbolic at times as shown from Henry’s certain private hobby, but it handles its lead characters with compassion and understanding at least. As frequently pointed out to us throughout the film, adolescence often feels like a limbo full of big emotions driven by its turbulent biochemical condition, and we come to emphasize more with Henry and Grace – especially when they come to learn something important as respectively struggling with their emotional issues.
In addition, the two lead performers are engaging in their nuanced performance tinged with small human touches. While Abrams steadily holds the center as required, Lili Reinhart, who has been mostly known for Netflix TV series “Riverdale”, gives a relatively showier performance as ably handling the complex sides of her character, and they are convincing as their characters pull or push each other along the story.
However, the movie falters in case of the depiction of several supporting characters surrounding Abrams and Reinhart. While Kara Young and C.J. Hoff provide some humor as Henry’s two best friends, a romantic subplot involved with Young’s character is rather underdeveloped, and the same thing can be said about a number of scenes involved with Henry’s loving family played by Bruce Altman, Meg Gibson, and Sarah Jones.
On the whole, “Chemical Hearts” is one of better teenage romance films during recent years, and I must say that some of its best parts took me back to the memories of those turbulent moments in my adolescent period. I was surely young, wild, and reckless during that time, but I survived those moments at least while getting to know myself more, and I am glad to be reminded again that I am not the only one who got often confused and frustrated a lot in front of that overwhelming volatility of adolescent feelings.