Chemical Hearts doesn’t quite fit the mold of a typical teenage romantic drama. Sure, there’s plenty of teen drama and teen angst and teen heartbreak. But there’s also an extra layer of character study and conflict grounded in the grief and circumspect motives of Grace Town (Lili Reinhart), the teenager who captures the heart of 17-year-old Henry Page (Austin Abrams) at the start of their senior year of High School.
The film opens with Henry lamenting the lack of anything really happening to him in life. He’s a nice guy, has friends and a stable family life, and is in line to become the editor-in-chief of the school paper. But he hasn’t had a girlfriend, hasn’t fallen in love, hasn’t experienced anything particularly noteworthy in his book. Until Grace. She’s a new transfer student from another local school (clue one). She walks with a cane (clue two), is brooding and aloof, has a car but doesn’t like to drive (clue three), immerses herself in love sonnets by Pablo Neruda, and is said to be an excellent writer, though she balks at writing for the school paper. Henry is instantly smitten. Bit by bit he gets Grace to open up to him about her past and the trauma that has come to define her life. And he falls in love with her – or at least the person he thinks she is. One minute, she is rebuffing his request for a date, the next she is making serious moves on him, prompting him to say “I think you’re the most confusing human being I’ve ever met.” No kidding.
Chemical Hearts is directed by Richard Tanne (Southside With You) who also wrote the screenplay, based (or at least heavily “inspired by”) the 2016 novel “Our Chemical Hearts” by Krystal Sutherland. The title refers to the messy jumble of hormones and chemicals that saturate the average teenage brain as they navigate the transition from kid to adulthood – a phase that Grace describes as a sort of “limbo.” Clues to Grace’s tragic backstory and damaged psyche drop like bricks throughout the film, punctuated by a gushy melodramatic score. It doesn’t rise to the level of an adapted teen romantic drama like The Fault in Our Stars. But Reinhart (TV’s Riverdale, Hustlers, Charlie’s Angels) and Abrams (Brad’s Status, Paper Towns) give solid performances and are among the young actors to watch in the years ahead.
Chemical Hearts is Rated R for language, sexuality and teen drug use. It’s available worldwide via Amazon Prime Video on August 21.