“Chemical Hearts” is a real downer of a movie that targets a very specific audience: angsty teens. This romantic drama, based on the 2016 novel by Krystal Sutherland, is a dark tearjerker about heartbreak and loss. When it comes to the genre, it languishes in mediocre territory, never coming close to its gold standard counterparts.
High school senior Henry (Austin Abrams) has never been in love. He’s a dreamer and romantic, hoping to find the once-in-a-lifetime romance he’s always been searching for. When the mysterious transfer student Grace (Lili Reinhart) joins the staff of the school paper, Henry is drawn to her. As their friendship develops, Henry begins to fall for her — but she’s not the person he thinks she is.
The execution is a little too serious, with bland performances from the two leads, and the source material is not strong enough to make a great movie. It’s just not a particularly good story. The ideas are there, including the missteps young adults make when they idealize their crush to the very concept of what makes the perfect love story, but the screenplay is weighted down with dialogue that’s too profound to be believable. The teens seems like normal kids until they open their mouths, and the ridiculously worldly and wise things they say ruin the authentic feeling by taking you right out of the story.
Eliciting more groans are the moments of heavy-handed symbolism like Henry’s hobby of breaking pottery then putting it back together. Instead of “paint me like one of your French girls,” it’s more along the lines of “don’t fix me like one of your Japanese vases.” There’s too much visual filler (overly long party scenes, lots of crying). And unlike the characters from their cinematic contemporaries (“The Fault in Our Stars,” “The Sun is Also a Star,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), Henry and Grace aren’t likeable.
The film has its heart in the right place but in the end, it glosses over the more serious issue of teen mental health and suffering with grief. Where this could’ve served as a sort of silver screen therapy, “Chemical Hearts'” may just make viewers sadder having watched it.
By: Louisa Moore