Over the years, there has been an innumerable number of media representations based on high schools that have been released across the globe. Be it in the form of films or TV series, there is something about them that just invariably draws everyone to watch them. From Grease to Pretty in Pink, from The Breakfast Club to Clueless, from Say Anything to Mean Girls – there has been an influx of amazing movies based on the teenage life, some romantic, some inspirational, some dramas, but all of them fantastic. Today we bring to you a review of Chemical Hearts – a very recently released high school drama!
Chemical Hearts is a 2020 high school romantic drama released on August 21, 2020, on Amazon Prime for viewers worldwide. Starring Austin Abrams and Lili Reinhart, it is based on the book ‘Our Chemical Hearts’ by Krystal Sutherland. It is a film based on heartbreak and love – notice we said heartbreak first? That’s because this movie doesn’t focus on the quintessential tale of beautiful love. Chemical Hearts proves as a window to the actually troubled lives that high schoolers experience, especially ones who have faced loss.
Chemical Hearts doesn’t glorify love as an essential part of someone, it doesn’t show love as a thing which magically completes a person and solves all their problems. Instead, you are told that love… love is just a combination of chemicals that make you feel good for a while. You’re shown that love is not flowers and roses and sunshine but the acceptance of the flaws and imperfections of a person.
The film is the second project of director Richard Tanne, who previously directed Southside With You, which was released in 2016 and won several awards. He wrote and directed Chemical Hearts and his influence on the film has helped the film gain several positive views. The actors were also critically praised for their performances.
Chemical Hearts Cast
Chemical Hearts employed a fairly new but immensely talented cast whose acting definitely gave the required flavor to the film. The main protagonists, Henry Page and Grace Town were played by Austin Abrams and Lili Reinhart.
Austin Abrams is known for his role as Ron Anderson in the fifth and sixth season of The Walking Dead and also as Ethan Lewis in Euphoria. Lili Reinhart is famous for the popular high school drama Riverdale, where she plays the role of Betty Cooper. She has also starred in the movie Hustlers and has a cameo in Charlie’s Angels.
C.J. Hoff and Coral Peña star as Murray and Cora, Henry’s best friends. Kara Young portrays Lola, the love interest of Cora which adds the flavor of LGBTQ+ acceptance in the high school background of the film.
Although the cast is very new and not very well known, their acting is commendable. The way they have immersed themselves into their characters, especially Abram and Reinhart, is beautiful and adds to the raw, solemn feel of the movie.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the cast, let’s move on to the synopsis of the movie Chemical Hearts!
Chemical Hearts Synopsis
Chemical Hearts is a deeply felt teenage drama that takes a high school romance and spikes it with something harder- loss, guilt, and mental health issues brought to the forefront. Where you think the story is going, is not where it ultimately leads. Chemical Hearts offers a solemn tone and is a coming of age tale on first love, bittersweet life experiences, and new beginnings.
The film opens with the male protagonist, Henry Page saying, “You are never more alive than when you’re a teenager.” He has always wanted to be a writer, but he laments the fact that nothing life-changing or inspirational has ever happened to him, like falling in love. Enter Grace Town, the new transfer student in school. With her cold demeanor, doleful beauty, and the fact that she walks with a cane, her presence transfixes him.
The two become co-editors of the school newspaper but towards the start, Grace rebuffs any of Henry’s advances for friendship which leads to him becoming very curious about her, going as far as following her to get to know more about her. However, after a while, she starts letting him into her life bit by bit, and he falls in love with her, despite the mixed signals and obvious indications of emotional trauma. He finds out that her disability was caused due to a car accident which led to her changing schools. He tries to help her and be there for her and falls into the illusion of a relationship.
On the anniversary of her accident, he goes to her house, only to find out she has been living in her boyfriend’s room and that he was the one who was in that accident with her. They have a huge fight, with Grace telling him that she is ‘ready but not ready’ to move on. They break up and he realizes that even though it hurts, it was the best thing they could do for each other.
The end of the movie shows the end of their senior year, with Grace taking a year off from college to focus on therapy and Henry going to college to focus on his writings. The film ends with the message that sometimes you’re not meant to fix people. Sometimes, all you can do is try to be there for a person and hope that your presence says it all.
Chemical Hearts Review – Our thoughts about the Movie
Chemical Hearts is a poignantly realistic tale of heartbreak, love, loss, and mental health. It deals with a lot of issues that have almost never been acknowledged for teenagers before. Furthermore, it focuses a lot on the limbo that teenagers seem to be stuck into, the feeling of confusion about who they are supposed to be, and how they are supposed to grow that comes between childhood and adulthood. Chemical Hearts takes a story of depression, sex, suicide, and love with straightforward honesty and shows it as is which is really commendable.
Since “Chemical Hearts” is told from Henry’s point of view, we see Grace through his eyes as a very intriguing figure, so standoffish towards him at first, it’s not clear why he keeps pursuing her, and why she keeps allowing it. If she’s so blatantly uninterested in him, then why exactly do they keep hanging out? This is a hypocritical and selfish part of Grace that we witness, where she doesn’t want Henry’s presence in her life but at the same time, she still stays with him.
There are tragedies in Grace’s past, of course, and her disabling injury is the least of it. She doesn’t share her story all at once, and Henry is often left confused and hurt, feeling she has been withholding information. She is not there to help Henry learn/grow/change. This is part of the Chemical Hearts subversion. Any idea we may have that Henry is there to help her love again or trust again or heal is completely kicked to the curb once the true lay of the land is revealed.
One of my favorite parts of the movie was the arc of kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery by affixing the broken shard with gold. This is a hobby that Henry indulges in, going as far as breaking vases himself to do the same. It makes him feel that he can fix everything, which is something he projects onto Grace.
He realizes that she is traumatized by her accident and he tries his hardest to ‘fix’ her. He finds beauty in her imperfections, that’s true, but he also sees her as something he can fix and that is something Grace doesn’t bear with. She tells him that she isn’t ‘one of his vases’ and walks away from him, thus making him realize that people are not meant to be fixed like broken glass shards.
This sends a very powerful message, that you cannot always fix something that is broken. Especially people. All you can do is be there for them and hope that is enough.
This is a very messy movie, kicking around within all the blue-toned minor-chord melancholy. “Chemical Hearts” is really about the roiling chaos and confusion of teenage life, of going through experiences—love, sex, heartbreak—for the first time, and the huge impact these experiences have on the body and the nervous system, which is explained by Henry’s sister who is a neurosurgeon and going through her own heartbreak.
As for the actors, Lili Reinhart and Austin Abrams steal the show. Their impeccable portrayal of their characters is testimony enough of their understanding and is applaudable. Reinhart plays the role of Grace with indescribable finesse. Grace is a mess, living in the aftermath of a series of catastrophes. She’s handling it as best she can, but as the film goes on, you realize how much she’s hanging by a thread. Reinhart plays all of this beautifully.
Abrams is a thoughtful presence, and best when he’s forced to deal with her unpredictable behavior. Watch his reactions. He’s paying such close attention to her, trying to read her face. These two young actors make this bond make sense.
Chemical Hearts is a beautiful drama that holds your interest from the start and keeps you guessing about what is to come. It portrays what teenage life feels like, especially when powerful experiences hit. The emotions wreak havoc. Teenagers aren’t mini-adults. It’s the other way around. As Henry eventually comes to observe, adults are just scarred kids who made it out of adolescence, battered and bruised but still alive.
We live multiple lives within one life and the people we encounter at different stages of our existence get to see a different version of us. There are endless possibilities of what a lovely film this could have been. People are not obliged to feel for you, what you feel for them. People can only love you the way they want to.
Chemical Hearts gives a realistic picture of love and attraction in its truest form — imperfection — but it fails to tug at your heartstrings while doing so. It isn’t the “My soul has lived a thousand lifetimes searching for yours” kind of a love story. It is the ‘we had a beautiful something but not all things last forever’ kind of love story.
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