Sarah Sherman and Zachary Ray Sherman‘s ‘Young Hearts‘ is a sweet, well-intentioned tween rom-com that tries to say something profound but ends up being like its characters: flat.
The story of ‘Young Hearts‘ follows a high school freshman, Harper (Anjini Taneja Azhar), and the relationship she builds with her brother’s best friend and their neighbour, Tilly (Quinn Liebling). Positioned as a tween rom-com for Gen Z’s, the film follows the conflict that arises at that age with sexual awakenings, progressiveness and relationships. These themes are served with awkward authenticity that bleeds into blandness as the not-so-interesting protagonists face adversity because of their relationship.
Like the performances delivered by the story’s protagonists, Sherman’s directorship is somewhat inconsistent. There are moments where shots are cut too soon, editing is too erratic and colour grading inconstant. Such director’s decisions could probably work in another situation but not in a film such as this where there is an obvious naturalism to the story.
From the beginning, it is obvious that ‘Young Hearts‘ is a film about the perils of tweenagehood. But this is not the tweenagehood often depicted by stories like Euphoria or Gossip Girl. No, these are real teenagers and it shows through their charming and awkward authenticity.
As a once-upon-a-time tween, the charming nature of Harper and Tilly’s awkwardness reminded me of moments spent with my crush, where I was too awkward to make a move and I hoped they felt the same way. It is this realistic nature of Sarah Sherman’s writing that truly captures the essence of tweenagehood in those moments of initial attraction where butterflies fly high in your stomach. And that is the feeling that is invoked through the protagonist’s romance that makes the first half of the film so charming.
But then what started off as charming becomes a story of characters that try too hard to begin conversations of social commentary. Harper’s authenticity slowly fades away as she takes an unexpected turn of maturity that is not only misfit but way beyond her years. It doesn’t help that neither writing nor directing explores this sudden maturation enough for it to make sense. A big part of Harper’s character arc is that she speaks on feminism and how girls are shamed for being sexual beings while boys are praised for it.
That is not the part I find issue with, but it’s the increasingly obvious want to make Harper this voice of social justice that comes off as inauthentic. When asked about the traditional disadvantages that women of colour face in relation to a racially inclusive form of feminism, there’s an excitement in Harper’s face that doesn’t quite match the ordeals that she, as an Indian girl, has or is going to experience as a character. It is inconsistencies like this, where the naturalism of the characters become faint and the film loses its charm, that makes the second half of the film less interesting, less believable and less authentic.
However, in the last sequence of the film there is a return to the initial natural charm that captured one’s heart in the first half of the film. But this time it is a fleeting moment that is too short but comes at just the right time when you’ve lost interest in what these characters have to say.
In Select Theaters and on VOD February 12, 2021
Review – ‘Young Hearts’
Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), February 10, 2021. Rating: TBC. Running time: 95 min.
PRODUCTION: A Blue Fox Entertainment release of a Duplass Brothers Productions, Storyboard Productions, Kiss the Earth Films, Good Wizard, UnLTD Productions, Salem Street Entertainment production. Producer: Elise Freeman. Executive producers: Bobby Campbell, Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Lisa Gutberlet, James Huntsman, David Moscow, Todd Remis.
CREW: Directors: Sarah Sherman, Zachary Ray Sherman. Screenplay: Sarah Sherman. Cinematography: Martim Vian. Editing: John-Michael Powell.
CAST: Anjini Taneja Azhar, Quinn Liebling, Alex Jarmon, Ayla Carda, Kelly Grace Richardson, Eric Martin Reid, Tanner Orcutt.