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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Given support from family, friends, and even professionals, teens can overcome serious problems, including trauma. Teens live experiences vividly but struggle with external pressure from parents, teachers, and peers. Racial, gender, and sexual diversity can be a natural part of any friend group. Literature and the arts can offer outlets for self expression. Relationships can lead to heartbreak but are still worth it.
Positive Role Models
Henry is compassionate, patient, and respectful with Grace. His loving parents and sister serve as role models for relationships. Grappling with grief and traumatic injury, Grace is aware and upfront about the time and work she requires to feel whole again. Her deceased boyfriend's parents take her in when her mother's alcohol use becomes a problem. Grace pushes Henry to be more expressive. Henry's two female classmates embark on a relationship although one of them is unsure of her sexuality.
Violence & Scariness
Grace was in a car accident that killed the driver and permanently injured her leg. She visits a graveyard and struggles to overcome her grief. When she pushes herself too hard to regain physical abilities, she gets frustrated and repeatedly whacks her leg with her cane. Grace discovers a theme of suicide in the books on a teacher's syllabus. Henry worries Grace is suicidal, and she says she's not, but has thought about "not being here." Henry admits he's still getting over a classmate who killed himself by hanging. Running after Grace one day, he almost gets hit by a car.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Grace and Henry kiss repeatedly. At a party, Henry says Grace looks "hot" and she does a sexy dance for him. They slow-dance and when they get home, they have sex. It's Henry's first time and he worries about his lack of experience. She asks if he has a condom and she puts it on him. Two girls flirt and eventually kiss at a party. One of them admits she'd "hooked up" with a lot of other girls. Henry tells a story about sharing a Hustler magazine with a friend when they were 13.
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"Bulls--t." "S--t." "F--k." "Sucks." "Dope." "God."
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Products & Purchases
Written works including 100 Love Sonnets, Romeo and Juliet, Ordinary People, Catcher in the Rye, and The Sorrows of Young Werther. Mac laptop. Jansport backpack. Bennington College.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Henry smokes "kush" from a pipe at a party and says he's "trashed." Other teens drink out of red plastic cups. Grace says she used to be a "beer pong champion." A student mentions dropping acid. Grace's mom has alcohol problems.
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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." To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.