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‘Chemical Hearts’: Not your typical cheesy high school rom-com

Lili Reinhart’s Amazon film tests your tolerance for heartbreak.

Transfer student Grace (Lili Reinhart) catches the eye of high school senior Henry (Austin Abrams) in “Chemical Hearts.”
Amazon Studios

First love as a teenager is a rite of passage that is familiar to many and oft-depicted, but this movie is a little different. It’s more about the first loss than the love.

Amazon Prime’s “Chemical Hearts” is sad, dark and, depending on how much heartbreak you can take, almost too depressing at times. But it definitely provides something different in the teenage romance genre — except that something different may make you miss the days of frothy high school rom-coms by the end.

Henry (Austin Abrams) is a thoughtful romantic teenager going into his senior year of high school. He leads a fairly average suburban life as editor of the school newspaper with a solid friend group, but his world gets a little more interesting when he meets Grace (Lili Reinhart), a transfer student.

They start falling for each other while working together on the school paper, or at least Henry is falling for Grace. It is clear early on she is dealing with a secret — one that’s later revealed to be an almost unbearably terrible tragedy from which she desperately needs to heal.

This is Reinhart’s promising debut as an executive producer, and it’s nice to see her dealing with more serious material after gaining popularity in the somewhat cheesy teen drama television series “Riverdale.”

Reinhart and Abrams have great chemistry and leave little to be desired as lovesick-yet-confused teenagers. Their love story feels natural if at times painful to watch. They carry most of the movie, while other characters like Henry’s sister, parents and friend group get little development, which may frustrate fans of the book.

Without giving away spoilers, the twists strike like repeated punches to the gut, and there’s no accusing the plot of idealizing the late teenage experience.

High school romance movies can make some feel left out, as the main character pretty much always gets a happy ending. Real life, at least for most of us in high school, doesn’t end up like the movies. “Chemical Hearts” may be over-the-top melancholy at times, but it also provides a raw, honest look at grief, love and the adolescent psyche.