The romantic drama “Chemical Hearts” opens with a bland voice-over from its protagonist, Henry (Austin Abrams). “You are never more alive than when you’re a teenager,” he observes before lamenting that his own life, while full of love and privilege, lacks in interest. Beginning senior year, Henry aims to run his high school newspaper, but his ho-hum experiences offer little fodder for writing.
Luckily for Henry — and for the engine of this angsty and often aggravating movie — inspiration arrives in Grace (Lili Reinhart), a transfer student who walks with a cane. She is a doleful beauty, and her presence transfixes him.
The pair meet when they are assigned as co-editors of the newspaper, but Grace, moping through the club meetings, recoils from his efforts to connect. For a brief and alarming spell, Henry follows her in secret to spy on her alone time. Then the teenagers begin hanging out, and ease into a tentative relationship. Henry hopes to solve the puzzle of Grace’s sorrow, and the writer-director Richard Tanne, adapting the story from a young adult novel by Krystal Sutherland, makes this desire visual in Henry’s hobby of kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery by affixing the pieces with gold.
Grace’s jagged edges come from recent trauma and, to the movie’s credit, Henry finds that his doting alone will not restore his dream girl to a whole. We feel the sting of this realization, and Henry’s sister, who is studying to be a doctor, adds another layer to the story by explaining his heartache on a chemical level.
Yet despite the movie’s sympathy for the high stakes of Henry’s adolescence, the myopia of his point of view settles over “Chemical Hearts” like a layer of grime. As Henry struggles to crack the code of Grace’s grief, her journey is robbed of space to breathe. We are locked in Henry’s world, where Grace’s pain looks more like a catalyst for our hero’s emotional awakening.
Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. Watch on Amazon.
Source: NY Times – Review