wed 24/07/2024

Chemical Hearts review - turn off the sound | reviews, news & interviews

Chemical Hearts review - turn off the sound

Chemical Hearts review - turn off the sound

Story of traumatic teen romance looks good but lands with a thud

Love and death: Austin Abrams and Lili Reinhart in 'Chemical Hearts'

Musings on the agonies of adolescent love fall like dead weight in this wearying if well-acted adaptation by writer-director Richard Tanne of the 2016 Young Adult novel Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland. 17-year-old Henry Page (Austin Abrams) falls hard for Grace Torn (Lili Reinhart, from TV's Riverdale), the indrawn new transfer student at his New Jersey high school who walks with a cane and speaks of needing her sins erased.

Henry craves experience and gets rather more than he bargained for from the anguished Grace, with whom he bonds over Pablo Neruda sonnets and shared work on the school newspaper. Both hesitant lovebirds speak with a faux-poetry that’s pretty hard to take: “People are just the ashes of dead stars,” is just one line amongst many that thuds. The virginal Henry encounters disinterest bordering on disdain to start with from the casually bitchy Grace, who speaks dismissively of a car wreck ("not that it really matters") that accounts for her infirmity.

Lili Reinhart in 'Chemical Hearts'But persistence pays off and before long, Henry is able to crack the elaborate carapace of self-protection Grace has created by way of a shield. The problem is that every gear change to the plot comes accompanied by a swoony hyper-articulacy that sounds like no one on earth (or at least not anyone whose company you would seek out). "Sometimes it's just easier to slip into your own dark abyss," we are told, not long before Henry is caressing Grace's overly symbolic scar: a visual reminder of her previous relationship with a much-loved student called Dominic whose Instagram page itself contains references to Tolstoy and Wilde. Precocity has its place, I suppose, but such details nonetheless pull one up short. 

Tanne made the acclaimed indie film Southside with You about the young Barack and Michelle Obama, so would seem to have a particular interest in the dynamics of incipient affection. It's doubly dismaying, therefore, how consistently cloth-eared this current venture is. In the world of Chemical Hearts, Romeo and Juliet can't help but represent the most totemic title of all, and characters exist less to love per se than to save one another from psychic distress. That Henry has an older sister (Sarah Jones, in a throwaway part) who's a neurologist allows for various maunderings about the mechanics of emotion, even if one wishes a lot more attention had been paid to the mechanics of the script.

Henry is randomly allotted two friends in an (unsuccessful) attempt to broaden our perspective beyond his infatuation with Grace, and his parents exist mostly to be ridiculed for a lifelong love rooted in happiness (imagine!). If ever a movie were crying out for a subplot or something to lessen its grimfaced inevitability, this is it. Abrams and Reinhart, appealing performers both, come at their parts with more range than their spoken drivel would seem to allow, and Albert Salas's photographer catches an appropriately moody hue. But by the time graduation rolls around and our ill-fated couple agree to go their separate ways, you'll have long since tuned out to the tragedy and its aftermath. The movie is pleasant to look at but near-impossible to hear. 


The characters exist less to love per se than to save one another from psychic distress


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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