Chemical Hearts (CREDIT: Cara Howe/Amazon Studios)

Starring: Austin Abrams, Lili Reinhart

Director: Richard Tanne

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for A Sex Scene, I Guess, But It’s Restrained Enough That It Really Should Be PG-13

Release Date: August 21, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

Oh, adolescence, when our lives really begin AND end. We don’t fully become who we truly are until we reach our teenage years, and adults are still basically teenagers who somehow managed to make it out of high school intact. Or so Chemical Hearts would have us believe. For all its talk of full-to-bursting emotionality, though, this movie is actually fairly low-key relative to other flicks about teens enduring love and trauma. It’s a young person’s film, with a young person’s sense of the world, but it keeps its head on straight and its feet planted securely.

The action starts out at the school newspaper and expands from there. A few minor conflicts are introduced, but they’re soon handled efficiently to everyone’s liking, and I certainly appreciate the maturity on display. But some potential mysteries linger for longer. Will they come to a head? Before we find out, we must first get to know Henry Page (Austin Abrams), who’s all set to be the editor of the paper and eager to learn about his new transfer classmate/colleague Grace Town (Lili Reinhart). She gets around with a cane and says little about her past, but she’s willing to let a friendship blossom as she and Henry walk to her house every day after school so that he can then use her car to drive himself home.

It’s no surprise that Henry and Page’s hearts gradually become bound up in each other. They initially bond over his attempts to sound like a cool literate soul (he mispronounces the last name of her favorite Chilean poet) and ultimately they just realize how much they support each other. But what is surprising, considering the genre and both lead characters’ penchants for overdramatization, is how understated their courtship plays out. There’s a sex scene at one point that is especially tender and sweet, focusing as it does on these two lovebirds doing their best to be present for each other.

If Chemical Hearts had ended right at that happy point without delving too much into Grace’s backstory, I think I would have been generally satisfied. But of course, it is impossible to completely avoid massive drama rearing its insistent head. It’s revealed along the way that Grace was in an accident and that she lost someone very close to her and has a rocky relationship with her mother. She lives with the post-traumatic stress that comes with all that in her own unique way, and as it may appear to Henry and some viewers, it feels real. This strain of practically operatic emotional pain isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but in this case, it at least doesn’t feel like the cosmos is cruelly toying with these young people. I’m not sure I buy Henry Page’s thesis that you’re never more alive than when you’re a teenager, but I can buy that his story is sufficiently worthy of my attention and my affection.

Chemical Hearts is Recommended If You Like: The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Five Feet Apart

Grade: 3 out of 5 School Papers