Review: Chemical Hearts is sweet, but fails to recognize its full potential

Amazon Prime’s newest film had the right idea, but could’ve been executed much better

Austin+Abrams+and+Lili+Reinhart+play+two+teenagers+engrossed+in+a+relationship+while+finding+themselves+in+Chemical+Hearts.

Photo Amazon Prime

Austin Abrams and Lili Reinhart play two teenagers engrossed in a relationship while finding themselves in Chemical Hearts.

Anna Woodward, Editor-in-Chief

After seeing ads for it every time I opened TikTok, I finally decided to watch Amazon Prime’s Chemical Hearts. I had seen Lili Reinhart in “Riverdale,” and Austin Abrams in “Euphoria,” and was excited to see how the two would act with each other.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The film follows Henry (Abrams) as he is navigating adolescence, which has been normal and uninteresting until he meets Grace (Reinhart). He is instantly captivated by her, and wants to know everything about her.

Grace, however, is reserved and beaten down by something that has happened in her past. The film follows the two as they get to know each other and eventually delve into a relationship built on grief, literature and growing up.

There’s no discussion that parts of this film were predictable and cliched. But that’s expected for a teen romance. Weirdly enough, I don’t mind that a lot of the dialogue was cliched and dramatic because Grace and Henry are writers, and two defining parts of their relationship are sharing a poem, and working on the school newspaper together.

Their conversations still made me laugh at times for how exaggerated they were, but I’ll excuse it because they made it work.

The ending to Chemical Hearts was simple compared to the complexity of Grace and Henry’s relationship, which I think was well done considering that it was satisfying to see them do what was best for themselves. It effortlessly captured the idea that not all endings (especially relationship endings) have to be bad.

The writing wasn’t Oscar-worthy, but Chemical Hearts‘ soundtrack completed the film. With songs from Beach House, The xx and a whimsical score, Chemical Hearts did a perfect job of capturing the characters’ moods and personalities with music. I especially enjoyed the way that one particular song-“Take Care”-was used as a symbol for holding onto the past. This song captured the essence of Chemical Hearts, and I’ve been unashamedly listening to it on repeat after watching the film.

Combined with the cool, neutral colors of the setting, Chemical Hearts‘ soundtrack made it a soothing film to look at and listen to.

Easily the best part of this film was Lili Reinhart. Known for “Riverdale,” Reinhart proved in Chemical Hearts that she can handle mature roles. While both of her characters are similar, with a love for writing and speaking with flair, Reinhart took on the challenge of producing and having a main role, and she did so gracefully. This movie wasn’t perfect, but I have to give her kudos for breaking away from Betty Cooper and tackling a different project.

“I had a very specific vision that she got behind and that made a really big difference…having the backing of the star is a very influential tool at your disposal.””

— Chemical Hearts Director Richard Tanne (on working with Reinhart in an Aug. 2020 interview with Insider.)

Chemical Hearts went by quickly, yet wasn’t fast-paced. I enjoyed this because it made the film engaging and stopped it from becoming boring. At the same time, I felt that Chemical Hearts could’ve gone more into depth about the characters.

This factor isn’t as big of a deal to me though, because I didn’t read the book that Chemical Hearts was based on, which may have easily answered my questions. Even more so, the movie is more in Henry’s perspective, but I still wish that more background on the characters besides a monologue in the first five minutes was included.

Despite enjoying this movie during the original watch, the more I thought about it, the more I began to see it differently. So many of the characters serve one sole purpose: to be a token in Henry’s coming of age story.

Henry’s sister has two personality traits. One, she’s studying to be a neurosurgeon. Two, she’s the only person who can understand his pain because she was cheated on recently. The only time she comes into play is when he needs her, and she could have easily been replaced with a poem or quote.

Even Grace, who is marketed as one of the main characters, is portrayed solely as something for him to fix, and a reason for Henry to have the great hero’s journey he’s been dreaming of. She is portrayed as a mysterious girl who is a shell of who her old self, instead of a person who’s struggling with grief and coming to terms with the fact that her life will never be the same.

So much could’ve been explored with her, and the film had a great opportunity to display the pain of losing someone you love at such a young age. It didn’t do this though. Instead, it focused on Henry’s need to “save” and “fix” Grace, including her in the film as a means for him to be a hero.

This movie should not be considered a great, romantic love story. Grace and Henry are more of a “right person, wrong time” pairing. Grace was obviously still coping with her grief, and acted like she had to fill the hole in her life, accidentally leading Henry on in the process. On the other hand, Henry idealized Grace, and got too caught up in the idea that she was his dream girl.

To me, the saddest part of the film is that they had the potential to be great for each other, but found each other at vulnerable states where they weren’t ready for a relationship.

I would’ve preferred a film about Grace coming to terms with her grief and finding herself again, but instead I got another “naïve boy tries to be a savior” film. That’s not saying that I didn’t like Henry, because his character was relatable, had a lot of potential and Austin Abrams did a great job portraying him. If anything, I respect that Chemical Hearts showed that teen romances aren’t anywhere near perfect and have their series of ups and downs. Regardless, the film just so happens that both of them get hurt, and it’s easy to be annoyed at Henry for parts of it.

This film wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it was nowhere near the best. Despite being an hour and a half long, Chemical Hearts failed to recognize the potential it had to tell a well-made story about grief and growing up. I think that this movie had the right idea, but lacked the depth it was capable of. There were a lot of great things about this film, but at the end of the day, I wish that it had been different.