Chemical Hearts, the sophomore directorial outing from Richard Tanne, is the feature film adaptation of the 2016 novel Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland. The film, which stars Lili Reinhart and Austin Abrams in lead roles, is easily one of the worst and most frustrating films I have seen come out of 2020. Despite a terse 89-minute runtime, this is a painstakingly sluggish film that is made all the more fatigued through its half-baked script, misdirected approach, and subpar performances. At the core of this film is the potential for an emotional examination of love after grief, but Chemical Hearts is far more concerned with employing standard-issue romantic drama tropes, most often to practically no potent dramatic effect. Furthermore, the slight and manipulatively melodramatic take on the story is further undone by the film's inexplicably stoic tonality, in stark contrast to the expressive and empathetic narrative that could have propelled the film to stronger, more fulfilling emotional heights. With gratingly lulled pacing and detached, formulaic storytelling, it's hard to fall in love (or even stay awake) with Chemical Hearts, despite its best of intentions. Maybe there is a better film helplessly stuck within the frames of Chemical Hearts, but it's frankly shrouded by the lackluster vision for this film as it stands.
What really doesn't do this film any favors are the performances at its center. Lili Reinhart gives easily one of the most bland performances I have seen onscreen in a while - the writing for the film isn't perfect, but there were several missed opportunities for Reinhart to display serious dramatic chops. Austin Abrams, who I enjoyed seeing in Euphoria, gives a performance nearly just as poor; his mumbled dialogues fade into a whimper. Perhaps the greatest worry for the film is that the two leads have no real onscreen chemistry (not so chemical) with one another, and you never believe in their characters when they are onscreen together or apart, for that matter. Somewhat in these performers' defense, however, is the lack of even remotely good writing for their characters. There are plenty of efforts made to dig into something deep, especially with Reinhart's character, but by the time she's delivered her closing cheesy one-liner, it's hard not to completely check out.
Chemical Hearts is most often painful, ultimately, because of the sheer potential in its themes and content. There are small glimpses of a drama with more on its mind than cheesy romance; a tale of lost love, pain, and letting go is recognizable but lost amidst the lazy storytelling and humdrum writing. Unfortunately for this film, however, it never even provides the complete escape of a sweet yet sappy romantic film; it's too ambitious to let its sentimentality flow and too lazy to give its themes the proper due they deserve. Chemical Hearts is simply dull and manages to grate on your nerves with its inability to create a focused or fulfilling vision. These chemical hearts hardly deserve a reaction.
|Chemical Hearts is a dull and frustratingly painstaking film that is simultaneously too ambitious and too formulaic for its own good.