In case you missed it, a few weeks ago, I reviewed the Krystal Sutherland’s debut novel Our Chemical Hearts (which I absolutely loved – find my review HERE.) I received a copy in anticipation for the book-to-movie adaptation so I’m keen to let you guys know my thoughts and whether the film lived up to the book!
For reference, the movie came out on the 21st of August on Amazon Prime and I watched last weekend so I’ve had some time to mull over my thoughts and look over the short notes I took while watching the film.
So let’s get onto Book Vs Adaptation.
First Impressions: Casting & Introduction
I didn’t know much about the cast going in, just that Lili Reinhart from Riverdale was cast as one of the main characters; Grace, and that she was involved in the production as well. From the get-go, I loved that they stuck to the book’s representation. Grace and Henry’s portrayal was perfect. Their personalities were just as I pictured, although I did picture Henry differently, more like Nat Wolff if I’m being honest.
What started to bother me as I watched the movie though was that we never actually got proper introductions to Henry’s family, nor his best friends. I never even caught the names of his best friends until maybe halfway through the film – Murray had little to no lines and I don’t think he was even Australian! It was quite saddening to see Henry’s support system reduced to almost nothing in the film because they brought so much banter, healthy love and sunshine to the story. Henry’s parents were my favourite in this book, and in the film…not so much. They had different personalities and we never even got to see the so-called perfect relationship they had as an example for Henry. If you hadn’t read the book, you might’ve been a bit confused. So a bit of a bitter start to this movie but I was hopeful! Like other side characters that lost all their depth, we got little to no context as to why Henry’s sister was going through a tough time. Her explanation for what happens in your brain chemically during a break-up came out kind of cringy and unnecessary.
What I did love which we didn’t really get to see much in the book, is Henry’s background with kintsukuroi – mending pottery with seams of gold. Seeing Henry actually working on the china that he puts together with gold glue. It was a pretty important part of Henry’s hobbies in the books that didn’t get a huge introduction, so I actually really enjoyed seeing this.
Main Course: Plot & Themes
What was obvious as I watched this film was the focus was on Henry & Grace alone. Which is fine because the book is also about their relationship and I think this aspect was done amazingly well.
It embodied so many of the important messages of the book, exploring the limbo that is growing up and how painful it can be especially when young people experience love for the first time. Henry and Grace’s relationship was dynamic and represented fast-paced love and exhilaration of a first relationship perfectly.
Another great theme from the story was going into Grace’s grief and Henry’s need to fix or sometimes ignore her feelings from the inconvenience. It was a great lesson for us to watch that there are sometimes more complex emotions to consider other than love and infatuation. Life is also sometimes about letting go and understanding that love and heartbreak will occur over and over in life and that it’s normal to hurt. The spine of the book was definitely there and there were moments where I almost teared up because they depicted important scenes so well.
Scars are not reminders of what’s been broken but rather, what’s been created.Chemical Hearts (2020)
A part of the book’s plot, if you haven’t read the book, was that Henry & Grace were both editors of their school’s magazine and Henry struggles to think of a theme for most of the book. However, in the film, the magazine became a school newspaper and the theme was figured out so early. This was another saddening change because figuring out what the magazine’s theme was going to be was such a big thing; it embodied Henry figuring out what other teens like him would relate to and could write about. The scramble at the end of the book for Henry to finally figure out a theme and to get this magazine finished and printed was so reminiscent of how teenagers and people cram in their homework at the last minute and I really enjoyed that – but I also understood the idea that they’re exploring the theme chosen at the beginning of the movie throughout the story. Different but still looking at similar ideas, which was enjoyable. In that way, the plot kind of shifted from trying to find meaning through the story, to exploring meaning as the story progresses.
While most of the themes from the book were incorporated well, coming of age isn’t just about love but about other relationships too – love is just one part of it. The side character’s stories were almost erased; we didn’t get to meet Murray or see his struggles as a teenager either. Lola’s love-interest was vaguely there but it felt more like side-plots that had no significance. Even though this movie is already at roughly 90 mins, it could’ve gone for so much longer if we got to see those moments from side characters, the happiness and different experiences other young people can have.
Despite the changes, the main plot of the book and many of its core messages are there. However, I missed the banter, the fun; the film felt so sombre and like Grace’s character was all about misery. The small happy moments seemed overshadowed by the sad reality which actually made the sad moments less impactful in my opinion.
In terms of production, the script could’ve been a little less cringe at times and the shaky camera work was slightly questionable in certain scenes but the plot was almost the same in its turn of events and I personally loved seeing the rendition of the koi fish. This was certainly a hard-hitting movie for a hard-hitting book, so let’s get to the final verdict:
My Verdict: The BOOK was better.
It was still really enjoyable but just not as good as the book.
Sometimes it also felt like it was created for more adults than teenagers (I mean, the 18+ rating is another thing). I think this is another adaptation that had so much potential but ended up being kind of disappointing. Let’s hope for more successful book-to-movie adaptations in the future!
Have you watched Chemical Hearts? What did you think?
Until next time,