Directed by: Richard Tanne
Review by: Livi Edmonson
“Chemical Hearts” is Amazon Prime’s latest attempt to make the film industry feel normal again by putting new flicks straight to demand. Well, I have great news for the teen soap lovers: This is your guilty pleasure film you have been waiting for all quarantine long. Starring familiar faces of the teen genre, Lili Reinhart (from “Riverdale” (2017- present) and Austin Abrams (Euphoria 2019 – present), “Chemical Hearts” is adapted from the best-selling YA novel, “Our Chemical Hearts” and follows a high school senior who falls in love with a mysterious transfer student.
Already from the plot, the film seems familiar, especially to its overwhelmingly large teen melodrama genre. Needless to say, with its predictable character arcs, forlorn tone, and mediocre Rotten Tomatoes score, “Chemical Hearts” does not disappoint in terms of success as a sap-fest. The film resembles both “Paper Towns” (2015) — which ironically, Abrams also starred in — and “All the Bright Places” (2020). It has the quirky wit and mystery of “Paper Towns” with the depressing facade of “Bright Places.” If you like these two films, you will more than likely like this one if you can ignore all of its faults.
It is also important to note that this film is rated “R” for reasons you can probably figure out within the first 10 or so minutes. The subject matter is heavy, but personally, the content is not the worst I have seen in a teen film. So, if you are holding your teen back from watching because of the rating, I would investigate the reasons why it is rated “R” beforehand because I don’t think the rating is what parents should be concerned about. Instead, I think the message is quite cynical throughout, but nearly every film in this genre is that way these days.
The other issues I had with the film, honestly, deal with the lousy writing. There does not seem to be a lot of “world building” in the beginning, meaning that we don’t ever really learn anything about our protagonist or the world he lives in prior to learning his purpose in the film. Instead, the film jumps straight into the whole “my life changes today” plot point, and that gets the audience nowhere as far as developing an opinion on the character or characters. I have also read a few other reviews with certain critics praising Reinhart’s performance. I don’t know whether it was her character or her performance, but the pessimistic, nonchalant vibe she put off just did not work for me. If I’m being honest, I kept thinking to myself how lazy her acting seemed, so I’m a bit shocked to find such praise surrounding her. It could have been an interpretation issue on my end, but I have definitely enjoyed her other performances more. I have no complaints about Abraham’s, on the other hand, but his performance was not anything special to me either — just your typical, lanky teenage protagonist.
I think the film hits all of the notes it needs to hit in order to be liked by the audience it is targeted toward. Do I think it is a great addition to the popular genre? No. Do I think that a hormonal teen bored out of their mind with an Amazon Prime subscription would like it? Absolutely. If you know of a teen in need of some angst and heartbreak to binge upon, recommend this film to them. If you don’t fall within this category, just resume whatever Netflix show you are binging for the thousandth time. I give it a 4 out of 10.