"You're never more alive than when you're a teenage."
Adolescent love is a unique, raw emotion that has proven difficult for filmmakers to capture fully. It's existence, a strict balance between innocence and curiosity, relies as much on the surrounding tone and dialogue as it does the characters' natural chemistry. Richard Tanne's Chemical Hearts challenges that perspective, offering up a rare and, interestingly enough, humbling look at love, loss, and the power of one's clouded heart.
Centered on high school senior Henry (Austin Abrams) and his sudden crush on new classmate Grace (Lili Reinhart), Chemical Hearts excels thanks to its mature and self-respecting approach. Both characters, affluent writers for their well regarded high school paper, are equally well-read and spoken. Their dialogue, advanced beyond their years, brings a cultured and sophisticated approach to an often misunderstood and under-respected demographic.
The characters' presentation goes against many traditional expectations for films centered on young romance; however, its detailed inclusion helps the film paint its literary metaphor, bringing forth its central point without it needing to feel forced.
Additionally, Tanne, who directed and wrote the feature from a book by Krystal Sutherland, shows relentless respect for his viewer. Maintaining the film's place beneath the surface, Chemical Hearts paints with delicate strokes, countering real life's simplicity by forcing its viewer to listen, watch, and dissect the events happening on screen. Visual clues and internal thoughts are critical throughout, allowing all to discover the ways individuals choose to communicate.
These subtle moments allow us to overlook the film's glaring plot inconsistencies, most notably during the second act. Though many moments present themselves as a way to push the story forward, their odd placement and arbitrary inclusion are highlighted by the film's otherwise intelligence and cohesiveness.
As the pieces to the puzzle begin to fall into place, and the romance between our two protagonists slowly blossoms, you can't help but be caught up in the whirlwind of it all. A beautifully choreographed montage helps to speed up senior year's events, and the short clips highlight the beauty and tranquility that comes with love. But under the skin lies so much more, including a pain that though previously mentioned, has not been appropriately addressed.
The fractures in the canvas prove an additional metaphor, highlighting the many literary elements that exist within the film's primary framework. While many will comment that you can't have love without pain, happy without sad, or life without death, Chemical Hearts contains too much soul for such generalization.
The agony, heartache, and frustration that come with uncertainty help bring Chemical Heart full circle, painting a beautiful picture of the complexities that exist within the heart's chemical makeup. The final minutes cement the film in its authentic approach. It is well-rooted in reality, reaching back to the beginning of the school year when two lonely hearts discover one another and yearn for an ounce of understanding. I cannot promise that they find it, but life is all about the journey.
*This film is streaming globally via Amazon Prime.