How Amazon Studios is selling a YA movie about letting your guard down.
It’s hard to tell the story of a romance where one – or both – characters face some life-threatening disease or other impediment without becoming either offensive or treacly. Some succeed in walking that line more than others, with this week’s new release Chemical Hearts making its own attempt.
Lili Reinhart stars as Grace and Austin Abrams as Henry, two high school students who, as they’re about to start their senior year, are chosen to co-edit the school newspaper. The two take to it with differing amounts of enthusiasm, but a connection forms between the romantic Henry and the closed-off Grace, one that he interprets differently than she does. That leads to tension between the two friends as they have to grapple with how they feel, what they really know about the other person and how reality and perception aren’t always the same thing.
The movie has an underwhelming 58 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on the mixed reviews received to date. Amazon’s campaign for the film seeks to make a similar approach to how Netflix has sold some of its recent romcoms, but with a bit darker take on familiar material.
It’s not clear what aspect of the story the copy on the first and only poster (by marketing agency BOND) is referring to. “Fall in love. Fall apart.” could be about the coming together and then breaking up of Grace and Henry, seen here passionately kissing in much the way real high school students don’t. Or it could be about how in order to truly fall in love with someone you have to let yourself fall apart internally. It could be both, of course, but the lack of additional details as well as a more informative image leaves the true meaning vague and undefined.
Henry is lamenting his unremarkable life as the first trailer (8.4 million views on YouTube), released in early August, opens. That changes for him when he meets Grace, the two of them assigned to their school’s newspaper. Grace refuses to write anything because of a previous bad experience. She has a lot of trauma that keeps her from getting close to Henry despite his best, if awkward, efforts. Those efforts also help him grow into who he feels he’s becoming, making this a good coming of age story about two outcasts who find each other at a particular moment.
Online and Social
No online presence for the film, but it did receive a bit of support on Prime Video’s Twitter account.
Advertising and Promotions
In May Amazon Studios announced the movie would premiere on Prime Video in August.
A brief clip was released in mid-July to get the conversation started. Another came out just last week showing Henry and his friends navigating the high school social scene. A third had Henry leading an editorial meeting, one that Grace is reluctant to participate in.
It’s usually the kind of thing that comes out after the movie has been released, but Amazon has already put out a video featuring the “Best Of” Reinhart’s performance in the film.
Online ads like the one below were displayed to drive traffic to Amazon’s site where people can play the movie or add it to their watchlist.
Media and Press
Reinhart expressed her desire for the movie to break her out of the box that is her “Riverdale” character and more, though appearances like this on “The Tonight Show” would include as much conversation about that show as this movie.
How this movie differed from the stereotypical YA flick was covered by director Richard Tanne, who also talked about why he wanted to get involved in this project and more. In a separate interview he tried to differentiate this from other romance films.
Another interview with Reinhart had her talking about her career as a whole and, again, how she wanted to use this movie to expand her image a bit.
One’s interest in the movie being sold here is likely dependent on one’s tolerance for watching a couple 20-something actors play high schoolers who are dealing with issues in the way teenagers absolutely don’t. That’s not a problem unique to this film, but one that plagues movies like it and TV shows that run along similar lines.
That being said, Reinhart in particular stands out here, so it’s an odd choice for her not to be more central to the campaign. Instead it’s Abrams’ Henry that’s shown here to be the audience’s main point of connection with the story, his perspective that we view the other characters and events through. That perspective isn’t as effective for a number of reasons, ranging from how he seems relatively forgettable and uninteresting to how it means the character who’s differently abled isn’t given the agency to tell their own story but instead must be filtered through the lens of someone else.
It’s a decision that means the campaign isn’t quite as effective as it otherwise could be.