Review by Sean Boelman
With two popular rising stars in the lead roles and a relatively well-liked young adult novel as its source material, Richard Tanne’s new romance Chemical Hearts appears to have everything working in its favor. But unfortunately, in its attempts to deconstruct the genre, it loses the qualities that make teen romances so charming.
The film tells the story of two wayward teens who form a relationship while working on the school’s newspaper. A big part of the movie’s issue is that it simply isn’t believable. The dialogue is frequently laughable, and even down to the premise, the viewer has to suspend their disbelief to accept that anyone other than the rare overachiever trying to boost their resume ever used the school newspaper for any legitimate purpose other than to goof off.
One of the more frustrating things about the film is its wavering nature which eventually becomes tiresome. Even though the movie is only a little over an hour and a half long, the fact that the characters keep changing their minds leads to a lot of repetition. Maybe there is a bit of truth here in the fact that teenagers are indecisive, particularly when it comes to love, but that doesn’t make it anymore cinematic.
There are some themes in the film about grief and trauma, but they are barely explored. Some of the threads that are introduced about the female lead’s past are interesting, though Tanne falls back on the age-old “I don’t want to talk about it,” excuse as a justification to leave his characters underdeveloped.
Perhaps the single most damning thing about the movie, though, is that it is nearly impossible to get behind the central relationship. There’s not much compatibility between the characters, and there are clear red flags for future abuse and manipulation. On an individual level, the characters are likable, but they just don’t work together.
If it weren’t for the chemistry between the two stars, the film would be nearly unwatchable. Austin Abrams and Lili Reinhart are excellent together, if only the material gave them characters that meshed together more effectively. That said, Reinhart does have some few moments in which her performance feels inauthentic, more fit for a television soap than a movie like this.
Visually, Tanne’s film is really cold and uninviting. Although the movie is a bit cynical in nature, the fact that this extends into the style is quite off-putting. Also of note is the soundtrack which, filled with modern-sounding pop tunes with very little soul, is annoying but matches the mood of the film decently.
Chemical Hearts is altogether unpleasant because of its script that is sorely lacking in characterization. Despite having some interesting things to say, Tanne’s movie is just too impersonal to connect on any level.
Chemical Hearts streams on Prime beginning August 21.