When it comes to the teenage romance films, they always leave me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. There have been exceptions to that way of thinking—“The Notebook,” “Paper Towns” and “Perks of Being a Wallflower." And others that have just missed the mark for me—“The Fault In Our Stars,” “If I Stay” and “Everything Everything." Going into Amazon’s latest “Chemical Hearts'' starring Lili Reinhart (Riverdale) and Austin Abrams (Paper Towns) I admittedly wasn’t looking forward to it. The story follows high school student Henry Page (Abrams), who hopes to become editor of his school paper and get into a good college, until new student Grace Town (Reinhart) arrives. Thankfully, I am so happy to report that I had a polar opposite experience than what I expected.
No spoilers in this review of course, but if you think you know this story you really don’t. Before I dive further I will say that if you’re not a fan of any of the films I mentioned in the last paragraph, I recommend you stop reading now. Nothing in “Chemical Hearts” will win over the typical opposition that this genre faces. But in some cases, it’s nice to have a film that has such appealing and likable characters. Both Reinhart and Abrams have quite a likable chemistry that is always engaging to watch. We may know the trajectory of a story like this, but it’s a pleasure to go through the motions of “awkward first meeting” to “eventual fall in love” with leads like these. Our leads make the film be consistently compelling, but I want to give the most praise to the director.
This is director Richard Tanne’s second feature film after 2016’s vastly underrated “Southside with You." That film followed the first date of our previous President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama. What made a film like that so compelling was how he made everything in the story feel natural. From the dialogue to the minute details of the set, you immediately bought and understood the world. In the case of this film, he adapts a novel (which I haven’t read) and creates a realistic world. Unlike most films akin to this, there’s more of a straightforwardness in the decisions made by characters. It can really be described as the maturity of Tanne as a filmmaker in how he treats the material as respectfully as he does.
“Chemical Hearts” is a movie where these characters and their world are so appealing, I can’t be harsh on it. The only real criticism I have is that none of the supporting characters are given much of anything at all to do. That’s certainly nothing against those actors, it is just easy to tell that it's a Reinhart and Abrams movie. Between those actors and a very solid direction, you get a film that's more than the sum of its parts. Before I go, I just want to give a special thanks to the kind folks at Amazon for sending me this early screener! Even if “Chemical Hearts” doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
Watch the trailer here.