Film Review | Chemical Hearts (2020)

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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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Michael Chabon, Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman and Kirsten Beyer on Star Trek: Picard, what it means to treat Star Trek as a franchise, and more

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Between the four of them, Michael Chabon, Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman and Kirsten Beyer have written a lot of Star Trek: novels, comic books, films, and, of course, television. The series isn’t just that anymore – over fifty years after the original Star Trek was quietly moved to Friday nights and eventually cancelled, it’s now the jewel in the crown of CBS All Access, and a major international acquisition for Amazon Prime. That little television show has grown into an empire.

Or, put another way, it’s a franchise.

“It’s interesting this word ‘franchise’, right?” muses Kurtzman. “Because it feels like a very – Michael used an excellent word the other day – a very mercantile term, where everything is about ‘okay, we can sell this and we can sell that’. But I actually don’t think that’s what it’s about for any of us. I think that’s someone else’s job. Our job is to create great stories and figure out how to use all these different mediums to tell them in interesting ways.”

I’m really, really pleased with this one, actually – it is, I think, my favourite of the four Star Trek: Picard interviews I’ve done this week. Certainly, I think it’s the most insightful and most worthwhile as a piece of writing on its own terms – I’m particularly proud of what I was able to build out of the roundtable interview here.

Take a look!

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Isa Briones and Jonathan Del Arco on Star Trek: Picard, their characters Dahj and Hugh, and more

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As Isa says, though, it’s not every day you become part of something already so well-established. But with that must come some sort of trepidation – especially so early in her career, knowing this might well become her defining role?

“When you haven’t done much you will take any role that’s given to you,” laughs Isa Briones. “But I also didn’t know what this role was going to be. I was just auditioning and I was told it was Star Trek. I wasn’t really told that she was going to be this involved until the last call back. It really was a lesson, like, you’d never know how life is going to turn out and timing is everything… I always just cite my father. My father has been in the business a while, working his ass off for so long, but he finally started getting known at 50 years old. Now this is happening for me at 20, so anything is possible at any time. You roll with the punches, you take what comes your way.”

“She’s also an incredibly confident actor and performer, a great singer as well,” says Jonathan Del Arco, praising his co-star. “You always seem incredibly competent to me, from the day I met you. I think you were born for the part.”

The third of four Star Trek interviews! Isa Briones and Jonathan Del Arco were both absolutely wonderful – really just genuinely quite fun to be around.

Interviewing Isa in particular was a little bit of an odd experience, because it was the first time I’ve ever been older than the person I was interviewing. Which obviously is not actually that significant, but it threw me for a loop a little bit.

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Michelle Hurd, Harry Treadaway and Evan Evagora on Star Trek: Picard, working with Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes, and more

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“I’m just trying to work out whether I’m allowed to say what I think I’m allowed to say,” paused Harry Treadaway.

We’ve asked the assembled actors if they can tell us a little bit about their characters. So far, the answer has mostly been yes: Michelle Hurd explained that her character, Raffi, “has a very complicated relationship with the Federation. Very strained. She worked with Picard back in the day after Next Generation, and they had a bit of a falling out”. Evan Evagora, meanwhile, described his character Elnor as “a young Romulan boy who’s an expert in hand to hand combat. He’s pretty good with a sword as well, and he was raised in an all-female sect of warrior nuns”. Elnor is an orphan and a refugee; Raffi is haunted by decisions she’s made in the past, both of their lives changed radically by the destruction of Romulus.

But Harry Treadaway is having a slightly harder time telling us anything at all about his character. The three of them confer for a moment, whispering to each other so we can’t hear.

The second of four Star Trek: Picard themed interviews – this time with new cast members Michelle Hurd, Harry Treadaway and Evan Evagora!

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Sir Patrick Stewart and Jeri Ryan on Star Trek: Picard, how the new series addresses the present, and more

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Captain Jean-Luc Picard is here. Not only in a new Star Trek television series, but he’s also sitting just across the table from me.

There’s something a little surreal about that. Technically, yes, it’s actually Patrick Stewart who’s sitting here in front of me – but in all ways except literal, Captain Picard is in the room, and we’re all captivated.

It’s not the sort of thing you ever really think is going to happen, and it’s clear Patrick Stewart didn’t expect to be here either.

“For many years, any suggestion that I might revive Picard,” he explains, “I passed on immediately, straight away, without hesitation. Not because I wasn’t proud of what we did on Next Generation. I was, and I loved all the people that I worked with very, very much. But I thought I had said and done everything that could be said and done about Jean-Luc and the Enterprise and his relationship with the crew and so forth.”

Which, well, makes a lot of sense. There’s a version of Star Trek: Picard out there – a half-written script on someone’s hard drive, a forum comment, the whisper of a dream – where nothing has really changed. Captain Picard, on the Enterprise (the Enterprise-F this time, of course), boldly going where no one has gone before. But we’ve seen that: we’ve seen a hundred and seventy-eight episodes of it, and they were often wonderful, but all good things must come to an end.

Except, of course, here we are.

So! This was very exciting!

The day after going to the London premiere of Star Trek: Picard in Leicester Square, I had perhaps the most personally exciting interview of my career: Sir Patrick Stewart! And Jeri Ryan! Captain Picard! And Seven of Nine!

Eventually, I suspect I’ll write more about the experience itself – I think perhaps there’s something interesting to be said about it – but for the moment, let’s just sit and enjoy quite how cool this is.

Patrick Stewart!

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