Despite a Compelling Narrative and Captivating Star in Lili Reinhart, ‘Chemical Heart’ Doesn’t Hit

A still from 'Chemical Heart'. Lili Reinhart in the foreground walking in a forest. The forest behind her is blurry as is Austin who stands in the right side of the image.
Amazon Studios

Teen angst. A term that is instantly understood. No one definition could adequately describe this persistent trope in teen dramas, but it is the backbone of the genre. Chemical Hearts is the latest film that marinates in the angst, but it never quite becomes anything worth consuming or enjoy.

It is strange to say that one can find enjoyment in teens suffering, but there is a sense of catharsis when watching teens explore the very depths of their beings and then come out of it seemingly better than before. It is a reflection of who we once were when we were teenagers (or still are). What makes Chemical Hearts difficult to absorb is that the leads have no chemistry and also the writing could not be more pretentious.

Before we delve into what doesn’t work, one must recognise that there is a lot of good things in the film. For one, the directing is head and shoulders above the average teen drama. There is an acute attention paid to creating the atmosphere of the story. Everything is filmed rather beautifully, and our actors framed in very flattering ways. The cinematography gives a soft and comforting energy, with the warm and cool tones effectively balancing the hopefulness and despair that permeates the story.

However, the most notable bright spot of the film is Lili Reinhart. Despite looking a tad bit older than a high schoolers, Reinhart gives a genuinely heartfelt performance. Grace’s cold and distant persona can never be attributed to the tough girl persona that often plagues these narratives. Instead, Reinhart imbues Grace with a vulnerability and sensitivity that is easy to spot and understand.

Lili Reinhart and Austin Abrams walking away from school. The building, students, and a school bus are visible behind them. Lili is wearing a baggy brown jacket, a brown plaid shirt, and a grey tshirt. Austin is wearing a blue sports/track jacket, with a grey tshirt. Austin's head slightly faces Lili as he talks.
Amazon Studios

The film would have been able to skate by on all these good things coming together to make for a sweet yet sombre teen drama, however, the script falls into many mistakes as it makes its smart youngsters sound way to smart for their own good. Perhaps if the tale was told with a college setting or characters that were in the midst of an thirty something life crisis, then it will be easier to accept. However, seventeen year-olds just don’t converse like this. There is a way to convey the deeply volatile and passionate spectrum of emotions teens go through, but it is not in the way this script would have you believe.

Often what makes or breaks films like this is how these characters relate to each other and if that in someway accurately represents the core demographic. However, there is no doubt that this will resonate with fans who have read the book Our Chemical Heart by Krystal Sutherland. Whether screenwriter Richard Tanne adapted the book faithfully is unclear as I’ve never read the book, but the audience will sure be the judge of that.

At the end, Chemical Hearts treads familiar territory, the tropes of your typical melodramatic teen angst is on full display and if you are susceptible to it, it will win you over.

Chemical Hearts is available on VOD now

by Ferdosa Abdi

Ferdosa (she/her) is a lifetime student of cinema. Three of her current favourite films are: Addams Family Values, Cinderella (2015), and Emma. (2020)On Twitter you can see her support women-led cinema, her ongoing love/hate relationship with Disney, her totally healthy obsession with Eva Green, and her great admiration for Guillermo del Toro.

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