Chemical Hearts is the story of Henry Page (Austin Abrams), a teenage student who considers himself a hopeless romantic but has never fallen in love. The young man aspires to be the editor of the high school newspaper and lives happily focused on his studies to enter a good university until Grace Town (Lili Reinhart) enters his class. His new partner is not exactly the girl of his dreams, but little by little he falls in love with her when the two teenagers are chosen to edit the institute newspaper.
Coming-of-age movies have always spoken to me and have always meant a lot to me, especially during my youth. I am twenty-years-old now so I really can’t say that I am coming-of-age anymore, but I still love these types of movies regardless of my age. They are still so relatable to me and speak to me on such a personal level that it can be a bit tricky to describe accurately. There have been quite a few good coming-of-age films this year such as All the Bright Places and Big Time Adolescence, but none of them come close to being as deeply intimate and powerful as Richard Tanne’s Chemical Hearts, which definitely won over my heart.
It’s not the most game-changing film in the genre, but it doesn’t need to be. It takes the formula for success and manages to tell an immensely sweet but emotionally strong story of two teenagers that feel a connection with one another, but they really can’t describe their feelings to each other, despite the fact that they are both writers. Henry often tries to tell Grace how much he likes her and tries to be cool and flirty with her but says that he isn’t the best at those types of things. He says that he thinks a lot better when he actually sits down and his time to plan out his words as opposed to him just saying it on the fly.
Grace on the other hand is the complete opposite. When she sits down to write something, she finds that it takes her quite a bit of time to come up with the words that she is trying to say, but when she is talking to somebody in person, she says exactly what she wants to say. One of the standout scenes in Chemical Hearts is a beautifully real moment with Henry and Grace talking in their school library about growing up as a teenager and how sometimes being young is the worst realization of all.
It’s truly miraculous that Chemical Hearts has as many excellent scenes like the one I just mentioned. There honestly wasn’t a single scene where I was bored or uninterested. I was always fascinated to see where Henry and Grace’s relationship was going to go next. They get each other so well but are confused by each other and constantly try to figure each other out at the same exact time. It’s sweet and charming and never feels fake.
Part of the reason why the characters work as well as they do is because of the performances from both Austin Abrams and Lili Reinhart. Together, their chemistry is absolutely infectious. They feel so nuanced and quiet in their roles and feel as though they are incredibly close in real life too. Both of their performances here impressed me greatly and I cannot wait to see what else they do in the future.
If there is something to complain about with the film, it would have to be the fact that we don’t get any time with side characters. The film introduces Henry’s school friends in the first act but doesn’t do a single thing with them whatsoever which was quite disappointing. They show up every once in a while but even still, they almost never show them talking to Henry. It almost feels as though they aren’t actually his friends at times which I’m sure wasn’t intentional.
Plus, when you really boil it down, the movie feels a bit too much like other films in this genre. Like I said earlier though, it’s not too much of a bother when the execution is done right, even if the story can come across as somewhat familiar. Rest assured, the execution in Chemical Hearts is done wonderfully.
Chemical Hearts beautifully captures the highs and lows of teenage life thanks to its nuanced and intimate screenplay and its wonderfully human lead performances.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexuality, and teen drug use
Directed by: Richard Tanne
Distributed by: Amazon Studios
Release Date: August 21, 2020
Running Time: 93 minutes