Release Date: August 21, 2020
Director: Richard Tanne
Cast: Lili Reinhart, Austin Abrams, Sarah Jones
Studio: Page Fifty-Four Pictures
Distributor: Amazon Studios
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Chemical Hearts is a teenage love story. But more than that, it’s a story about recovering from trauma.
Grace (Reinhart) was in a car accident with her boyfriend, and he didn’t survive. She spends the movie processing her grief, coping with both the physical and emotional aftereffects of the crash. Meanwhile, Henry (Abrams) falls in love with Grace, throwing her survivor’s guilt into sharp relief.
The movie is spent navigating the early stages of their relationship, while Grace tries to reconcile her new feelings and work through her past trauma.
I think this movie works really well as a slice-of-life: it’s a snapshot of a complicated high school romance that doesn’t belittle Grace’s grief and doesn’t patronize her behavior. Her motivations make sense; her character is fully-formed; she doesn’t exist as a manic-pixie dream girl, and Henry doesn’t push that expectation on her.
Chemical Hearts is excellent in terms of its messaging. The story doesn’t idealize trauma. It doesn’t gloss over Grace’s pain and ugly feelings to paint a romantic relationship as the magic cure-all to that trauma.
It’s clearly awful what Grace is going through and how it affects every part of her life. She’s absent from school, she’s frustrated with her physical injuries, and she’s constantly wracked with guilt, even when she’s with Henry. Because of that, the story felt very realistic.
I really appreciated that there wasn’t some big twist in this movie. Grace wasn’t a mystery to be solved, there was no burning secret. There was just a horrible accident, and a teenage girl trying her best to pick up the pieces.
The movie plods along, visually arresting, with an excellent performance from Reinhart, examining new facets of Grace’s past and present. It slowly builds toward Grace’s recovery, even if that recovery doesn’t involve Henry.
Overall, I highly recommend this movie for young adult fiction fans; it reminded me a lot of John Green’s work.
Its treatment of Grace’s trauma and recovery felt realistic, and the lack of a surprising twist is (actually!) a fresh twist on the teenage love/angst movie genre.