I do not love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz, or arrow of carnations that propagate fire
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soulOne Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda
These words are also a perfect example of what kind of film you’re signing up for when you go to stream Chemical Hearts on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a story of the definition of love and what happens when your heart is broken.
When we start the film, Henry Page (Austin Abrams) is a writer pining for the editor-in-chief position at his high school’s newspaper and not much else. Every time we see him on screen, he’s alone or emotionally alone, never giving anything his full attention outside of writing. This is also evident in how Abrams portrays Henry, many times looking bored or uninterested in what he’s supposed to portray in the scene, even mumbling his lines at many points.
Unfortunately, Henry’s friends, Lola “La” Haynes (Kara Young) and Mark “Muz” Patterson (C.J. Hoff) don’t get a ton to do in the film. Maybe this is expanded upon in the book version, but his friends show up for maybe ten minutes of the film’s total runtime, if that. “La” is given a fairly generic love story that I kept forgetting as soon as she was off screen and “Muz” doesn’t do anything of value in the film other than tell Henry to get on the bus. I’m sure Kara Young and C.J. Hoff are great actors, but they don’t get to showcase it here.
It is only until Grace Town (Lili Reinhart) appears that the film picks up any sense of direction. Grace is this deeply layered character who isn’t necessarily a love interest. In fact, she’s an atypical character of sorts. She has moments where she wants to receive love, moments where she wants to give love, but it’s not something that the film treats lightly. Every time one of these moments appears, it feels wrong, horrific even.
It is this horrific feeling that drives the film, making the film Grace’s story, not Henry’s, which I find super interesting. When I started the film, I thought this was just another “manic pixie dream girl” story where the girlfriend fixes the boyfriend. This film dares to do a whole lot more than that. Instead, it’s about what love feels like to those who have experienced that love being ripped away from them, and the emotions behind people who haven’t experienced those feelings trying to love that person anyway. Lili’s portrayal of this indescribable feeling took my breath away and I hope she does more character dramas like this.
Unfortunately, the technical aspects of the film don’t support her performance here. The cinematography feels flat and uninteresting outside of some spectacular depth of field shots early on in the film. Likewise, the score by Stephen James Taylor doesn’t have any boisterous moments where the emotion of a scene is carried through its composition. The script by writer, producer and director Richard Tannen is confusing at times, with characters doing things that act outside their best interests or assuming that the viewer knows the intent in which a scene is written, leading to confusion at a few points later on in the film. The editing by JC Bond is however, stellar, creating that uneasy feeling through what likely is post-production effects, cropping, and frame cropping as well as frame rotation.
Despite the film’s many shortcomings, I do believe that Chemical Hearts is worth the stream, if only to experience the film’s many diversions from what could have been a typical young adult love story.
Chemical Hearts will arrive on Amazon Prime Video on August 21st.