According to Henry Page, “You are never more alive than when you’re a teenager.”
By his reckoning, your teenage years are that awkward time where you no longer carry the innocence of childhood, but you still don’t quite have the experience of adulthood. “Teenage Limbo,” Grace Town (a transfer student with a bum leg from a car crash) calls it.
Grace confuses Henry. She sullenly tells him that she doesn’t want to be involved with the school newspaper but then changes her mind to help him with editing and with choosing a theme for their final edition. But as confused as Grace makes him, Henry can’t help but be drawn to her.
He’s stuck in that “Teenage Limbo,” with all the chemicals firing off in his brain are leading him towards Grace. He senses that her brokenness has more to do with her heart than with her scarred knee, and all he wants to do it fix it.
Grace’s brokenness does indeed have more to do with her heart. She grieves over the death of her boyfriend, Dominic, and struggles to let him go—wearing his old clothes, sleeping in his old room and refusing to drive a car. So, when Henry pursues her and attempts to fix her life, she does her best to let him.
However, somewhere deep down inside, Grace recognizes that Henry can’t “fix” her and that she doesn’t really want him to. So she pushes him away, breaking his heart in the process. But that ends up being good for both of them.
In Grace’s case, she takes some time to really process her lingering feelings for Dominic and to heal from his sudden passing. In Henry’s case, he learns about the chemicals that the human brain produces in response to love and heartbreak. And although he initially despises the pain that Grace causes him, Henry realizes that the experience helped him to begin the transition from adolescence into adulthood.
Henry has a close-knit and loving family, but his parents can be a bit out of touch. The two of them have been in love since high school and have a hard time understanding Henry’s heartbreak. However, his older sister steps in to offer support and advice. Having gone through a breakup recently herself (and having received comfort from her little bro), she is able to sympathize with his situation.
Henry’s parents do have other moments of good parenting. Although they won’t give Henry a car (because his grades aren’t quite good enough), they are proud when he is selected to be editor of the school newspaper. They also call him out when he lies about why he wants to borrow the family vehicle. They remind him that he is better than lying and force him to walk to his destination as discipline for his deception and rudeness.
Grace believes that people are nothing more than a collection of atoms who come together for a brief time before falling apart again. She also states that when this happens, it’s like the person’s slate is wiped clean of their sins.
We see a cross at a roadside memorial.
A teenage couple has sex. (Though nothing critical is seen, both teens completely undress, and the girl helps the boy put on a condom under the covers before engaging in the act.) The couple also kisses and makes out at several other points throughout the film.
Two teen girls make out at a party. They are later seen smooching and acting cuddly towards one another. A girl says that she “hooked up” with several others of the same gender.
A teen girl dances sensually by herself and with a boy at a party. A guy sleeps shirtless several times. We see a girl in her undergarments after she removes her dress. Some girls wear tops that bare cleavage and midriffs. A boy and girl cross-dress for a party. A girl kisses a boy on his cheek.
We learn that a teenage boy was killed in a car wreck. We hear that another teenager took his own life. People discuss the suicides and suicidal thoughts of literary characters.
After Grace falls while attempting to run, she hits her damaged legs multiple times with her cane in frustration. Someone is nearly hit by a car. We hear a story about a first-grader who stuck his finger in a pencil sharpener.
The f-word and s-word are heard about 10 times each. We also hear 2 uses of “a–hole” and see the world “h-lla” written in a text. God’s name is misused five times, and Jesus’ name another two.
Henry smokes marijuana and gets drunk at a party. He also gets drunk before visiting Dominic’s grave. Teenagers drink alcohol at parties. We hear about someone’s alcoholic mother. A family drinks wine at dinner. Someone talks about taking acid and being a “beer pong champion.”
Henry stalks Grace online and eventually follows her into the woods at the suggestion of his friends, which feels quite creepy. Two teenagers sneak into an abandoned factory. We hear a woman screaming at her daughter and later learn that the girl was taken in by her boyfriend’s parents due to her mom’s alcoholism. A girl is rude to her teacher.
Grace tells Henry that adults are nothing more than scarred children who somehow survived the “Teenage Limbo.” And initially, he also has a dim view of how ugly our emotional scars can be, because they never completely fade away. But over time, Henry realizes that scars aren’t just reminders of what’s been broken; they’re also a reminder of what’s been created.
Unfortunately, the film’s attempts to teach teens about heartbreak, grief and healing are all sucked up in a muggy whirlwind of questionable content.
For starters, the movie features a sex scene between two minors. It prominently displays a same-sex relationship. And its foul language more than earns the R-rating that it’s been given (which is a bit ironic, since most of the characters featured in this movie wouldn’t be able to see it without a parent or guardian).
The movie also talks about suicide, premature death and grief. And while the discussion surrounding these topics encourages teens to express themselves and to heal at their own pace, it’s still heavy subject matter and could be triggering to youths who have experienced this in their own lives.
So, for all of Chemical Hearts’ lessons about teenage love and heartbreak, it’s not a film that most parents would want their teens to see.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.