DIRECTED BY: Richard Tanne
STARRING: Austin Abrams, Lili Reinhart, Kara Young, Coral Peña, C.J Hoff, Jordan Adelman, Sarah Jones, Adhir Kalyan, Bruce Altman, Meg Gibson and Catherine Curtin
Seventeen-year-old Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a romantic, but the kind of once-in-a-lifetime love he’s been hoping for just hasn’t happened yet. Then, on the first day of senior year, he meets transfer student Grace Town and it seems all that is about to change. When Grace and Henry are chosen to co-edit the school paper, he is immediately drawn to the mysterious newcomer. As he learns the heartbreaking secret that has changed her life, he finds himself falling in love with her…or at least the person he thinks she is.
Chemical Hearts is the film adaptation of Krystal Sutherland’s novel, which is adapted and directed by Richard Tanne. The film focuses on Henry Page, a High School student entering his senior year who is an aspiring and hopes of becoming the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. When Henry is offered the position however, he’s offered it along with newly transferred student Grace Town, who declines. Henry is immediately drawn to the mysterious Grace, trying to figure out who she is and learn about her tragic past.
Chemical Hearts is Richard Tanne’s followup to his directorial feature debut Southside With You (2016) and I thought he done a solid job in that department, with the film having a certain aesthetic in the way that it is shot and captured by Albert Salas’s cinematography. The chemistry amongst the co-leads works in the films favour, and the character journeys is slowly built throughout the film. Austin Abrams gives a decent performance as Henry Page, it’s understated and delicate in how he responds to how emotionally distant Grace is and though he’s clearly stressed over trying to understand whether he’s done something wrong or helplessness he feels in trying to help her, he never overreacts or chew the scenery. Lili Reinhart meanwhile gets the more interesting role as Grace Town and I thought she gave a compelling performance and grounded performance as a young girl who is intelligent, guarded and suffering from a trauma that Henry just isn’t capable of relating too.
While the film looks good and has solid performances from its main leads, unfortunately it’s the material that they have to work with here that falters. The characters are very expressive in their feelings with numerous monologues that are delivered in a way that just feels as awkwardly inauthentic as must look on the page. Lili Reinhart in particular has to deliver some absurd dialogue in particular, with one gem being the ‘You’re an extraordinary collection of atoms, Henry Page’ line. I’m sure it’s in the book, hence way it’s there, but it just doesn’t work for me personally, as it tries to make characters seem wise and more profound than what they really are. My personal favourite in that regard is Henry’s sister, Sadie, a neurologist whose recovering from a breakup of her own, who has to give a monologue to Henry the chemical nature of exhilaration, heartbreak and grief. It’s worth mentioning that the film primarily is told through the eyes of Henry Page and while that makes sense in theory, unfortunately Henry is just not that interesting a character to follow. In regards to Grace Town, it feels like we could’ve had more scenes focusing on her alone, in the one scene she does have in which Henry is watching from afar as she tries to run on the track field like she used to before her accident. No dialogue is used but Reinhart’s actions speak louder than words and unfortunately the film doesn’t have enough of that. Outside of the co-leads, the rest of the ensemble don’t really get much chance to shine. Additionally there’s a sub-plot in which one of Henry’s friends Lola (which I ha to look up because Henry’s two best friends are practically forgettable to the point you forget their names) is in a will-they-won’t-they tussle with fellow classmate Cora.
While Austin Abrams and Lili Reinhart give solid performances in their roles and have decent chemistry, but Chemical Hearts struggled to maintain my interest towards the final act as the whole story and construction doesn’t feel authentic for me.