Chemical Hearts review: a missed opportunity

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Heading to Amazon Prime Video is the screen adaptation of the young adult novel Chemical Romance – and here’s our review of the film.

In recent years we’ve seen something of a resurgence of teen movies, many of which have been based on huge young adult hits in the book world. These films, like the books they are founded on, have potential to beloved by many young people, yet resulted in films that range hugely in quality and notability. For every To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Love, Simon there’s a Midnight Sun or All The Bright Places that seems to appear then disappear without much trace.

It’s likely that that latter route is the fate that awaits Chemical Hearts, which is a huge shame as the 2016 book it’s based on by Krystal Sutherland has a lot going for it. The novel is a poignant read, about how first love can come at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected forms yet not necessarily at the right time with the right person. A ‘kind of’ love story that’s often funny as well as bittersweet.

Adapting it to the big screen feels like something of a no brainer. Add to that the love interest is played by Riverdale’s Betty Cooper (Reinhart). She’s paired with lead actor Abrams playing film obsessive Henry Pag, who is an up-and-comer with a recognisable face and gradually recognisable name. The ingredients are here for a good film, that should work.

It’s hard to place why exactly it doesn’t.

The source material is on the darker side of YA, dealing with trauma and PTSD, and isn’t neat in the questions it raises and ending it delivers. But somehow, in its translation to the big screen, the story becomes grey, flat and one-note. The performances are solid, Reinhart channels her character’s tumultuous grief especially well, but the material they’re given is lacking in either authenticity or likeability. The relationship between Henry and Grace, which starts out with him being baffled, mildly repulsed yet attracted and fascinated, is dealt with far more nuance in the book.

When it comes to the film, their exchanges are either exposition or self-satisfied quips that signpost (with bright neon lighting) how different and quirky these two teens are, and how lucky they are to have found their kindred spirit. It would be wrong to describe their relationship, or the film overall, as one that builds. Instead it drifts, from one thing to another as Henry tries to unravel the mystery that is Grace, with much montage along the way.

That, perhaps, is the story’s biggest problem and one that’s made even more problematic when it comes to the gaze of the film. Henry’s two most distractive traits are his want to know more about Grace and his favourite hobby of Kintsugi (the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum – read: metaphor for his character). Grace is the one who’s experienced great trauma to a life-changing extent, yet we find out about it through Henry’s POV and witness how this impacts him.  The result is something that feels outdated and potentially problematic.

Or it would be if it was at all memorable. A missed opportunity.


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