A coming-of-age romantic drama, “Chemical Hearts” explores what it means to be a teenager struggling with grief, loss and love. Its two leading characters, Grace Town (Lili Reinhart) and Henry Page (Austin Abrams), grapple with their young romance throughout the film, dealing with the varying personal struggles that interject into the pair’s relationship. “Chemical Hearts” attempts to capture the melancholy of the adolescent experience, traversing larger-than-life themes that aim to resonate with a youthful audience.
The film, released Aug. 21, comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, wherein production companies and filmmakers have been forced to get creative with big-picture releases. Co-produced by Amazon Studios, “Chemical Hearts” was thus released on Prime Video, one of the streaming industry’s biggest platforms; it was noted as having 150 million paid subscribers in May, second only to Netflix. It’s unclear whether a theatrical release for “Chemical Hearts” was intended, however its debut solely on Prime Video suggests an increased presence of upcoming streaming service film releases, especially with the world’s current state of social distancing.
“I’ve only made one other movie,” said writer and director Richard Tanne in a roundtable interview with The Daily Californian. “But in the lead up to the release of that movie, myself and the lead actors were on a publicity tour around the country, showing the movie and doing screenings and Q&A’s. … There was a sense that we were on a train that was destined towards release.”
For Tanne’s previous cinematic venture, “Southside With You,” press junkets and in-person events were the name of the game. He was thriving on publicity tours, moving around the country in what was the common-practice film release. With these kinds of public events implausible now, a different experience has taken shape for Tanne with “Chemical Hearts.”
“I have to say I kind of like it. I wish what was happening in the world weren’t happening, but it has shown me the benefit of detaching from the release of something you’ve made,” Tanne said. “I think I’d probably be anxious if I was thinking about it. I was very anxious the last time around. I’ve just been focused on other things, writing, and that sense of detachment has let me focus on other things.”
Reinhart recognized that “immersing herself” in her character’s complicated subconscious was not always easy. While some actors don’t go to the extent of taking on their characters’ states of mind, Reinhart utilizes this sort of method acting to engulf herself in her work. This often entails many challenges for actors, but Reinhart weighs the good with the bad in making decisions, investing her emotions and ultimately finding success.
“I think I have felt the grief — maybe not to the extent — but I think we all feel grief when a relationship ends and I think I can relate to the heartache she was going through,” actress and producer Lili Reinhart said in the interview. “I think it’s a challenge in a way to play a character that’s so emotional because it requires a lot — it requires a lot of digging and bringing up your own experiences into a role.”
The role was “challenging” for Reinhart in this way, forcing her to sift through her own emotions and allow herself to tap into the deep, vulnerable places she accessed for the character. Grace, being an especially emotional and psychologically complex character, gave Reinhart what she calls a “good challenge,” allowing her to hone her skills and give a performance that was just as much Grace as it was her.
Austin Abrams, the film’s male lead, experienced a similar emotional process while stepping into the mind of the film’s protagonist, Henry. Abrams collaborated with Tanne as much as he could in an attempt to deeper understand Henry’s psyche.
“I think I tried to do my best to ask (Richard) as many questions as possible,” Abrams stated in the interview. “What was wonderful about this was he was also the writer, which was super helpful. He knew the script very well — that made for really great collaboration. There was really a plethora of questions that I threw at him that the poor guy had to answer.”
For these three creators, their unique perspectives and approach to filmmaking are a fascinating look into how the machine truly works. Through challenges, both emotional and practical, they have overcome for the purpose of creating, displaying in many instances what it means to bring an idea all the way to the big screen.