A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chemical Hearts depicts teenagers dealing with grief, trauma, heartbreak, sexual awakening, drugs, alcohol, and the death, by accident or suicide, of peers. The general tone of the film is dark. The high school seniors conclude that the teen years are painful as they rip you away from the safety of childhood, while adults are just scarred children who made it out. The two main characters, Henry and Grace, both learn that heartbreak feels the same as physical pain. They flirt, date, slow-dance, and kiss, then eventually have sex. Grace is more experienced than Henry, and she asks if he has a condom then puts it on him. Two girls kiss after admitting how much they like each other, even though one of them expresses confusion and says she's "hooked up" with a lot of other girls. At a party, Henry smokes "kush" from a pipe and says he's "trashed." Other teens drink out of red plastic cups. Grace says she used to be a "beer pong champion" and another student mentions acid. Language includes "bulls--t," "s--t," "f--k," "sucks," "dope," "God."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Henry Page (Austin Abrams) lives an average and unexciting life as a high school senior until he meets Grace Town (Lili Reinhart), a transfer student with a mysterious limp, in CHEMICAL HEARTS. It turns out that Grace was injured in a car accident a year earlier and is still getting over the scars, literal and figurative. Henry is immediately attracted to her, but she turns down his many advances. As they grow closer working side by side on the school newspaper, they eventually embark on a relationship. But they'll face a series of obstacles as a couple, most importantly Grace's long and difficult emotional recovery process.
Is it any good?
This movie misses an opportunity to craft a more realistic portrayal of the teen years, which seems to be its intention, by striking an excessively melancholic tone. One telling scene is when Grace discovers a suicide theme in the books on a teacher's syllabus. The books -- The Catcher in the Rye and Ordinary People among them -- have something else in common: they portray the teen years as generally sad and ultimately scarring. Chemical Hearts conveys that mood in its languid pace, memorable nighttime scenes at an abandoned mill, a graveyard, and a Halloween party, and visual analogies like Grace's leg scars and Henry's broken ceramics.
The lead actors (Lili Reinhart and Austin Abrams) both offer sensitive performances that capture the hole Grace finds herself in and pulls Henry temporarily into. The problem is that the film wants to generalize about teens, yet Grace is the exception rather than the rule. This is captured in the generally vivacious background characters, whose stories unfortunately go largely unexplored. Chemical Hearts opens with a quote: "You're never more alive than when you're a teenager." The line works as almost a caveat, a way of justifying character actions or emotions that might come across as, well, unrealistic.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the depiction in Chemical Hearts of the teen years as "painful" and "almost too much to feel." Is or was that your experience? How so?
Do you think the filmmaker wanted viewers to make a connection between Grace's physical and emotional scars and Henry's hobby of breaking and mending ceramic pots? She accuses him of trying to "fix her." Was she right?
What did you think of the student newspaper theme of "teenage limbo" and all the talk of the teenage brain?
Which scenes of this film do you think were the most memorable visually?
- On DVD or streaming: August 21, 2020
- Cast: Lili Reinhart, Austin Abrams, Sarah Jones
- Director: Richard Tanne
- Studio: Amazon Studios
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for language, sexuality and teen drug use
- Last updated: August 26, 2020
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