Henry Page (Austin Abrams) is a teenage student who lives for writing. Far more comfortable writing his feelings down rather than saying them out loud, he sets his heart upon becoming the high school newspaper editor. However, when it is announced he’ll be sharing the role with withdrawn new girl Grace (Lili Reinhart), his dream is slightly knocked sideways. Taciturn and sullen, Grace is only clear about she won’t do as opposed to what she will, leaving Henry with more than a task on his hands. Yet, the more time he spends with Grace, the more he senses that she is a girl with much more to say.
...is a solid addition to a romantic canon that all too often fires blanks.
Less self-absorbed than the recent Ladybird and neither a rage against high school cliques or prom night pay-offs, Chemical Hearts is a romantic drama with its own course to follow. Based on Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland, the voice of both the lead characters are without question distinctly grown-up. So, while maybe modern-day teenagers maybe way more mature or erudite than I ever was, like Ladybird, this ell-intentioned movie feels like a love poem to the past, written from the cusp of adulthood.
Like all the best teen romances, the girls are way smarter than the boys and in Grace, Hustler’s Lili Reinhart’s is one female lead that’s set to graduate with magna cum laude. Even with the structure of the film patently painted from Henry’s point of view, it is very much Grace who is very much the driving force. Visually reinforced by a car that she no longer has any interest in driving after a life-changing accident, Grace’s friendship is actually the vehicle that will take Henry onto the next stage of his life.
And yet hanging around in the background is the erstwhile presence of The Breakfast Club‘s director John Hughes. The first real director to give teenage angst an adult voice, his influence still feels very much in presence with most of the movie’s dialogue and existential arc. Freed from the nightmarish prom-night plotline of having to find ‘the one’, (see Brian De Palma’s Carrie if this is an unfamiliar concept to you), Chemical Hearts succeeds in being a film that feels neither the need nor the requirement to break new ground. Sure, whilst Henry’s journey feels a little Farmer’s Market familiar with his running through the rain and hobby of reassembling broken pots, but you can forgive this structural scaffolding once you step inside its deeper storylines.
Honest about the awkwardness that comes with first time sex, and frank about other gay girls’ inability to come out to one another, Chemical Hearts is a move that gets a lot right as it comfortably passes the Bechdel test. So even when later it fades away into convention in its third act, you will still be able to forgive director Richard Tanne’s second movie as an atypical high school romance.
More a rite of passage, more than a giggling series of notes passed in the corridor, it has to be said that Chemical Hearts is a solid addition to a romantic canon that all too often fires blanks.
Enjoy it on Amazon now.