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"CHEMICAL HEARTS"
(2020) (Austin Abrams, Lili Reinhart) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A high school senior ends up romantically involved with a new transfer student who's suffering from physical, emotional, and psychological scars stemming from a recent tragedy.
PLOT:

Henry Page (AUSTIN ABRAMS) is a high school senior with two best friends in Kem (ADHIR KALYAN) and Suds (SARAH JONES), who likes classmate Cora (CORAL PENA). Henry believes that nothing remarkable has occurred in his life, with his only desire for the year being named editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.

He gets that gig but must share some of those duties with recent transfer student Grace Town (LILI REINHART). Despite her being aloof and standoffish toward him, Henry is instantly smitten and the two eventually become friends and then lovers. But with her not having fully recovered from a past tragedy that's left her with physical and emotional scars, Henry tries to help her sort through her issues but finds himself frustrated at times by the complicated situation.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

Most common thinking regarding love is that it originates in the heart. I'm guessing that's due to the physical reaction of seeing someone who you find attractive or are already in love with causing your heart to race and maybe feel like it's skipping a beat.

While that's often truly the case, the cause of that nearly always originates in the brain that releases chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin that then affect other parts of the body including, yes, the heart.

And with one seemingly becoming addicted to that feel-good chemical release, the sudden removal of that stimulus -- be that through physical separation, a break-up, or even death -- can lead to withdrawal and its related symptoms.

That's part of what's in play in the teen-based romantic drama, "Chemical Hearts." Based on Krystal Sutherland's 2016 young romance novel "Our Chemical Hearts," this offering from writer/director Richard Tanne revolves around a high school senior, Henry Page (Austin Abrams), who's gunning to be named his school paper's editor-in-chief, but realizes if it was to feature a story about him, there would be little to write out, especially from the romance side of things.

Enter Grace Town (Lili Reinhart), a new transfer student who one of the teachers believes would make a great co-editor with Henry, what with both being excellent writers. But while that doesn't sound particularly enticing to Grace, for Henry his heart has already gone boom. So much so that he doesn't seem to get or see -- you know, what with love being blind and all that -- that she's trying to blow off both him and his puppy dog eagerness to connect with her.

Undeterred, he doesn't let up and the two become friends after he misses his bus and she gives him a ride home (he drives), only to walk home from his place despite the presence of the car and her quite noticeable limp and use of a cane.

You'd have to be a movie neophyte not to see where things are headed -- the friendship leading to romance and a slow drip of information regarding how she got that limp and the related lingering emotional-psychological baggage that comes with it, followed by something that causes a third act break-up -- but fans of young romance tales probably won't mind.

I will say that notwithstanding some of the contrived and predictable material, the performances, related emotions, and thematic elements (about love, love lost, guilt, and more) feel genuine, at least as viewed by someone removed from such teenage situational circumstances by four decades. And there's something to be said for that.

Decent but nothing tremendous, and certainly not executed to a degree that would make me fall in love with it -- and release some related dopamine -- "Chemical Hearts" has enough of a heartbeat for it to rate as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed August 18, 2020 / Posted August 21, 2020


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