My Chemical Hearts Movie Review

There's another YA movie out in the world! I always have mixed feelings about covering adaptions of YA books because I'm generally not a movie fan, and I tend to be really harsh. That hasn't stopped me from writing about quite a few of them. Since I've ended up enjoying so many in the past, I thought I'd give Our Chemical Hearts a try. I had some reservations going into it about the criticism of the disability rep in the book and also the general manic pixie dreamgirlness of the whole thing. I haven't read the book in so long, it's hard to really comment on it, but I'd looked into other own voices reviewers takes on the disability rep when I covered the announcement, so I'll leave that here for you to read and decide on your own about the book.
As for the movie, I generally liked it. Lili Reinhart stared in and produced the movie which made it extra interesting for me. She and Cole Sprouse (if you want my review of his YA movie, Five Feet Apart, you can find it here) are the best parts of Riverdale, so I was excited to see her acting outside of that wacky universe. I really enjoyed her performance overall. I think she did a good job of humanizing Grace's character and giving her as much dimension as possible. Lili definitely seemed to be a grounding force, and you could tell she respected the role. My only issue with Lili's casting and performance is that, as with everyone on Riverdale, it's hard to believe she's 17 because, when you're 23, you're really, really not 17. I'm not going to harp on it too much because it's a problem in almost every piece of major studio produced teen visual media, but it still made it hard for me to buy into the movie on a basic level.
The other main lead is Austin Abrams as Henry Page. The movie is told from his perspective. As an actor, I thought he did a good job. He's also 23. He played a lost, confused teenage boy really well, though. He also brought a greater dimension to the role than I feel like there was in the original book. Henry, overall, is a pretty bland character, and that seems to be by design. He's supposed to be a hopelessly lost, super nerdy kid. He glues pottery back together as a hobby (which my mom pointed out was probably connected his desire to fix "broken" people) and hasn't dated anyone ever. He's fascinated by quirky, sad Grace. The movie made the manic pixie dream girl issue come forward strongly. His level of boringness just makes Grace's instability and struggles all the more apparent. She has lots of things that seem "quirky" that come from the trauma of being injured in a car accident and losing her boyfriend in the crash.
While I don't love female characters being reduced to that archetype, when I'm not thinking critically, it usually doesn't bother me. But the entire movie, I just kept thinking how much more interesting this whole thing would be if Grace were telling her own story. The first part of the movie is Henry doing a lot of stalking to try to figure out why Grace acts so strangely. He does a lot of silent staring. I just kept wishing that we were in Grace's head while she went through the moments that Henry witnessed. Grace's trauma and recovery process is given in tiny bits and pieces that makes me want to explore the deep complexities of her situation on a more in-depth level. Henry's point of view limits it so much. While this is probably intentional to add commentary on how we can't know what everyone is going through from the outside, I still found it frustrating. There were points where it just felt like Grace was being used by the movie instead of having her entire story articulated.
I liked Henry's compassion and empathy and earnestness, but I couldn't find him super compelling as a main character. His stability and passive nature makes him a logical love interest for Grace who feels like she's spinning out of control, and I liked a lot of the scenes where he understood he only needed to listen, but I don't think they developed him enough to make a super satisfying POV character.
My last major comment is that the ending felt super abrupt, like it cut off in the middle of the story. The voice over montage started and my first thought was "it can't be over". Grace's story is wrapped so fast and with so little investigation. Henry's story is left with little resolution too. After the major climax point, we don't really get to see Henry react. Instead, it time jumps to the end of senior year where Henry and Grace have one more awkward interaction and then it's just over. It felt a bit rushed given everything that went down before that. **Spoiler till the end of the paragraph*** They don't end up together because they both realize that Grace isn't in a good enough place to date someone new. I love stories where the couple doesn't end up together, but something about this felt unfinished. They have a fight and then it's they ghost out on each other. The teacher announces that Grace is taking a leave of absence, and then it time hops. While I like that Henry respects Grace's need for space, it left their story feeling so incomplete.
Overall, I thought it was a pretty solid movie, especially as far as book adaptions go. From what I remembered, the movie was very faithful to the book. If you're looking for something to watch one evening, I don't think you'd regret seeing it, but I was disappointed at the lack of major takeaway from it. I guess the biggest theme is that you can't fix other people's trauma, no matter how hard you try, and it's also not on you to do that. All you can do is provide support and listen to their needs. That's a pretty good message, especially in a genre so fixated on the "I can fix you" story, especially when it comes to mental health, but I was left wanting more from the book. I think it's hard to engage in a story where the character always chooses to avoid conflict instead of confront it.
I'm also excited to see more streaming services becoming the avenue for YA adaptions. I love the adaptions that end up as limited series, but even the movies have so much more breathing room. Streaming services don't have as many rules to play by, so the movies feel more genuine and a bit less stilted in the name of getting the proper age rating. If you're looking for an incredible adaption to watch after this one, I still highly recommend Looking For Alaska on Hulu.

On Our Chemical Hearts...

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