Film Review | Chemical Hearts (2020)

chemical hearts lili reinhart austin abrams richard tanne amazon prime kirsty sutherland

There’s a recurring motif across Chemical Hearts, framing emotions as biological functions and chemical processes, breaking them down into hormones and endorphins and not a lot more. The almost-medical dialogue sits awkwardly in the film, the occasional references seemingly only included to justify the title, but even if the idea had been engaged with more deeply it’s not a framing device I’m especially fond of. Applying a scientific sheen to heartbreak and loss, romance and affection, joy and grief doesn’t render those experiences any more profound – it just makes them distant. Chemical Hearts is never cold, exactly, but it certainly doesn’t offer the intensity of feeling it promises in its opening lines: its characters are observed at some remove, never quite brought to life by a script more interested how they’re able to feel than what they feel.

That sense that characters are observed rather than engaged with isn’t, however, entirely a result of awkward dialogue: it’s baked into the film on a conceptual level. Chemical Hearts is yet another story that centres a white male ‘everyman’ type, positioning him as the lens to distantly approach a young woman’s trauma. If it feels familiar, that’s because it is. Chemical Hearts adapts the novel Our Chemical Hearts, part of a recent wave of Young Adult fiction that borders on the voyeuristic, where the specific tragedy their teenage protagonists have suffered is largely immaterial to the plot beats that follow. It’s not that there isn’t space for a sensitive, thoughtful film about a teenager rebuilding their life after trauma – or, indeed, about someone on the periphery of that – but Chemical Hearts isn’t that film. To its credit, it’s never as exploitative as the worst of its genre can be, and there are moments of relative quiet and maturity whereChemical Hearts distinguishes itself from those it most closely resembles, but ultimately they’re just that: moments.

Wrote about the new Lili Reinhart film, which is out on Amazon Prime today. She’s very good in it – much like she’s very good in Riverdale, albeit getting the chance to demonstrate some different skills here – but the rest of the film around her is a little lacking. Or at least I found it lacking, anyway; I did get the sense watching it that it would probably find a small-but-enthusiastic group of devotees along the way.

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Oscars 2020 Predictions

oscars 2020 predictions 92nd academy awards joaquin phoenix 1917 bong joon ho parasite renee zellweger laura dern brad pitt once upon a time in hollywood

Admittedly, I am historically not very good at this; last year, I got twelve out of the twenty-four correct. This, I suspect, is mainly because while I do follow the awards season narrative each year, I don’t actually retain a lot of it – so I’ve got a broad sense of where momentum has built, but you’d have to be quite charitable to call these predictions ‘educated guesses’, basically.

Still, though, it’s fun, and I figured since I’d probably draw up these predictions either way, I might as well get a blog post out of it. Incidentally, worth noting what the bracketed entries mean – I do these with a friend each year, and it’s three points for your first guess, two for second, one for third. So the brackets are what’s next-most-likely, from my ill-informed vantage point. (A lot of them are just guesses, and a lot of the guesses are based on stuff like “the title of this is neat”. It’s a fairly low-stakes set of predictions. I put money on them once. Won’t be doing that again.)

You can find the full list of nominees here, in case you’re curious about that. Otherwise, my predictions are as follows:

Best Picture 1917 (Joker, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Best Director – Sam Mendes (Quentin Tarantino, Bong Joon Ho)

Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix (Adam Driver, Leonardo DiCaprio)

Best Actress – Renee Zellweger (Saoirse Ronan, Charlize Theron)

Best Supporting Actor ­– Brad Pitt (Al Pacino, Joe Pesci)

Best Supporting Actress – Laura Dern (Florence Pugh, Scarlett Johansson)

Original Screenplay Parasite (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Adapted Screenplay JoJo Rabbit (Little Women, The Irishman)

International FeatureParasite (Les Misérables, Pain and Glory)

Animated Feature Klaus (Toy Story 4, Missing Link)

DocumentaryAmerican Factory (For Sama, The Edge of Democracy)

Visual Effects The Lion King (1917, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

Film Editing Ford v Ferrari (Parasite, Joker)

Original Score Little Women (Joker, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

Original Song “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Rocketman (“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” Toy Story 4, “Stand Up,” Harriet)

Production Design Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (1917, Parasite)

Cinematography 1917 (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, The Irishman)

Costume Design Little Women (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, JoJo Rabbit)

Makeup and Hair Bombshell (1917, Judy)

Sound Mixing 1917 (Ford v Ferrari, Ad Astra)

Sound Editing 1917 (Ford v Ferrari, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

Animated Short Hair Love (Kitbull, Memorable)

Live-Action Short The Neighbour’s Window (Nefta Football Club, Saria)

Documentary Short Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if You’re a Girl) (St. Louis Superman, In the Absence)

I’ve seen far, far fewer of these than I’d like – I’d had plans, vaguely, to review each of the Best Picture nominees in the days leading up to the ceremony, but those plans did not pan out. (So, “who do you want to win” is a little hard to answer, though as ever I default to “give all the awards to Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig”.) If you’re interested, though, you can find what I’ve written about 2019 films here, and 2020 films here.

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Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx on Just Mercy, coping during an emotionally intense filming process, and more

michael b jordan jamie foxx just mercy interview bryan stevenson walter macmillan destin daniel cretton

Having that resource there – a real person that’s actually there, that I can call on and text and be able to ask for help [if I was feeling] lost or confused about anything, somebody that I could really lean on throughout this process to make sure we got it right? I think that was really, really important. [Bryan Stevenson] was involved with the script development, he was along for the entire process – I feel like it was a huge benefit, having Brian around.

This one was very exciting! I spoke to Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx about Just Mercy, their legal drama based on a true story. It’s a great film, definitely worth a watch, and it was great to talk to them too. Both very polite, which is always nice.

Busy week for me, actually, this stretch in the middle of January. Three of my most high-profile interviews, all squeezed into a fairly short space of time. Not bad! Not bad at all.

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Bryan Stevenson on Just Mercy, the film inspired by his life

bryan stevenson just mercy jamie foxx michael b jordan daniel destin cretton when they see us death penalty walter mcmillan

When [it was] proposed that a movie be made, to be honest I was apprehensive. I wasn’t confident that a Hollywood interpretation of the story would be appropriate – I’ve seen [similar] movies that, for me, were disappointing.

But when I met Destin [Daniel Cretton] our director, and when Michael B Jordan got involved, we all had a great conversation about it – and they were all aligned in trying to do this right, and that gave me the confidence to move forward.

This, I think, is perhaps the most nervous I’ve ever been before an interview – talking to actors, writers and directors is easy, but a “real” person, a civil rights lawyer with “real” life experiences? That felt like an entirely more momentous interview.

Luckily for me, though, Bryan Stevenson was a very friendly, and very assured, presence (which is not massively surprising, in hindsight), so I was very much put at ease throughout. Possibly you can tell, possibly not – I refuse to actually watch these video interviews, I find it much too awkward, so maybe I do look very nervous throughout. But I felt less nervous, which was good.

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