REVIEW: ‘Chemical Hearts’ hindered by screenplay

OK, I can handle the teenage angst, but when pseudo-intellectual babble is poured on top, it becomes too much.

“Chemical Hearts” centers on the character Henry (Austin Abrams), a senior who becomes the editor of the school newspaper in his final year. As the fall semester gets started, he meets a new student, Grace (Lili Reinhart), who joins the newspaper team.

Grace walks with a cane, as she has an apparent leg injury and keeps to herself for the most part. Henry, though, wants to get to know her and as time goes on, begins to form a relationship with Grace. However, she’s still dealing with trauma from an event in her past.

“Chemical Hearts” is a film that’s rather poorly put together. The movie’s story is tied to the main relationship, yet the way the relationship plays out is repetitive and never feels like it’s building toward anything.

Henry finds out something new about Grace, she breaks down or gets upset, and then the two bond a bit more and it’s on to the next thing. There’s a sense that the movie is kind of just treading water in a pool of teenage emotions for an hour and a half without ever really doing anything.

This is also noticeable in how the film addresses things going on around the main relationship. There’s a sort of side plot going on with one of Henry’s friends who’s trying to start a relationship of her own, but it’s basically resolved at the start of the second act and never brought up again.

There’s also the whole subject matter of the school newspaper that barely gets any real attention. The film could have substituted the newspaper group for any other high school club, such as a pep band, a dance squad, a debate team, you name it, and nothing would fundamentally change.

Courtesy Amazon Studios, Page Fifty Four Pictures and Awesomeness TV.

Room probably could have been made to expand on subjects like Henry’s friends or the newspaper operations, which could have then added more background for the main characters too, had another subplot been stripped. There’s a small side story taking place with Henry’s sister who’s getting over a relationship of her own, and it doesn’t offer much to the overall narrative.

Issues with the movie’s story structure especially come into play during the film’s third act. Without spoiling the conclusion, this review will just note that the movie mostly takes place over the first quarter of the senior year, then in about the last 15 minutes, it skips to the time period around graduation.

The way time skips forward causes the film’s conclusion to be hollow and lacking of substance.

A lot of the issues with the film’s story structure could have been forgiven, though, had the movie’s script been stronger. Unfortunately, as stated in the lede, the film leans too hard into  a bunch of pseudo-intellectual topics and ham-fisted philosophy.

This is presented in both dialogue between characters and monologues from Henry with graphics that look like a computer screensaver being shown.

Other teen films, such as recent pictures like “The Sun is Also a Star,” “Five Feet Apart” and “The Hate U Give,” offer audiences much more realistic teen dialogue. They also provide some humor, which is something “Chemical Hearts” really lacks. There is serious subject matter here, which is fine, but there needed to be some moments where the characters lighten up.

At least the cast in “Chemical Hearts” helps things out a bit. Reinhart gives a strong, convincing performance as Grace, effectively acting out the more dramatic moments. Abrams is also fine as the film’s protagonist.

Overall, “Chemical Hearts” is a fairly standard teen romance that comes across like it’s trying to be smarter than it actually is. The cast is fine, but the writing is  a let down. It’s watchable for fans of the genre, and it’s not the worst teen drama that’s come out, but there’s just nothing remarkable here. 2 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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