The YA genre has evolved in an eerie parallel-world to high school comedies, a solemn Jekyll to comedy’s Hyde. The latter are mostly more accurate, insightful and compassionate about what being young is actually like – and the real-world YA feels to me insipid compared with the fantasies of Stephenie Meyer. Here is another in the young-adult style, with its familiar tics and tropes, directed by Richard Tanne (who gave us the likable Obama first date drama Southside With You) and adapted by him from Krystal Sutherland’s bestseller.
Austin Abrams plays Henry, a New Jersey high-school kid and 17-year-old virgin; he develops a serious crush on Grace, played by Lili Reinhart, a transfer student from another school who is beautiful, smart, given to reading Pablo Neruda in public and walks with a cane radiating an air of tragic, injured mystery. An English teacher decrees that Henry and Grace should co-edit the school newspaper; this they do and their complex and painful relationship takes its course, though Henry also has a gallery of friends also working on the paper just to show that he’s not supposed to be simply a loner and a loser. Among them, La (Kara Young) is beginning her own euphoric relationship with Cora (Coral Peña), and their loved-up happiness only makes Henry more wretched.
There’s some diverting material here about how the pain of young love and of being young generally is a matter of chemical reactions in the developing brain; Tanne samples some Stan Brakhage films to illustrate these inner-world moodscapes: Stellar and Study in Color and Black and White. But this elaborately contrived story feels as if it has been cobbled together from a dozen others, and it never escapes cliche.
Source: The Guardian