CHENNAI: Every so often, we hear film writers speak of chemistry between the lead pair. The latest Netflix original “Chemical Hearts,” directed and written by Richard Tanne, has this underlying message. What he presents is a story that any teenager or young adult would have experienced, from reading romantic prose to texting on mobiles. But the script helps turn what may seem as cliches into something plausibly exciting.
Based on Krystal Sutherland’s 2016 novel “Our Chemical Hearts,” the movie introduces us to aspiring writer Henry (Austin Abrams), who tells us in a voiceover: “You’re never more alive than when you’re a teenager.”
Everything appears so exciting, but not when a tragedy in the form of an accident happens. Grace (Lili Reinhart) is a high-school senior who loses her boyfriend when their car swerves off the road. She is left with a limp and heavy guilt, which is revealed at the end.
Henry is all set to become editor of the school paper when Grace is appointed co-editor. She is far from friendly but Henry falls for her. When she gives him a book of Neruda poems, he takes that as a sign of her interest in him. A relationship begins and the first steps are hesitant.
Grace drives Henry to some of her favorite places that only she knows about. There are some beautiful moments when the two stand by a pond and throw breadcrumbs. Magnificent fish come to the water’s surface, and it is a sight to behold. Her gesture in feeding them is a revelation of her extremely sensitive nature. When Henry and Grace visit her boyfriend’s grave, it is poignant and we can feel the guilt gnawing away at her.
The performances are subtle, somber and sweet, and make up for some of the plot’s shortcomings. Henry is no flashy teenager. He resists going overboard even when Grace is aloof. She is equally controlled, except in the final moments when she wades into the pond in her wedding gown (“We were to be married,” she tells him), removes it, walks out in her underclothes and goes back home like that. But the film’s plus points help us overlook things like this.