Painful Memories

Richard Tanne is a New Jersey-born filmmaker who made his debut with 2016’s Southside With You, based on the first date of American President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama. He now returns with Chemical Hearts, a hard-hitting tale of adolescent love and grief starring Lili Reinhart as Grace, a teen with a tragic past who falls for fellow student Henry (Austin Adams).

ASFF: How did you encounter Krystal Sutherland’s book?
RT: Well, actually the book was sent to me by Lili Reinhart. She had read it and wanted to play the role of Grace, wanted to somehow get the project off the ground. And she had seen my first film Southside With You and thought I might relate to the material. And I did very much so. I read the book and what the book did for me was put me right back into the high school state of mind, conjured up a lot of old memories. And I was particularly drawn to the darker prism through which it looked at high school, and those years. It wasn’t chirpy and cheery. It didn’t glorify those years.

ASFF: Were you faithful in your adaptation?
It’s a hard question to answer because I haven’t read the book since I read it the first time. When I first read the book, I just had a sense of how I wanted to do it as a movie because there were some critical aspects of the book that just spoke to me. Particularly, this journey of pain that both characters go on. First Grace, we don’t understand what it is. But she leads Henry down into this underworld of feeling that he’s never felt before. But she’s already there. She’s living in that world. So I knew I wanted to focus on that. I knew I wanted to kind of narrow the scope for the most part to the dynamic, the push and pull, the rollercoaster between the two of them. So there were a lot of subplots, bigger subplots, in the book that that didn’t make it into the script.

ASFF: Lili is also credited as an executive producer here. Do you think she’ll continue in this direction?
I do think she’s going to continue and I think she should. She has an innate storytelling instinct. And she’s so honest and truthful. And I think she has a great bullshit detector. I think that’s her secret weapon, which is that if there’s a line of dialogue that just sounds a little off, for a 17-18 year old girl that she’s portraying, or there’s just a moment in the script that feels a little limp.

ASFF: What are your own essential teenage movies that you grew up on?
RT: Rushmore was a big influence at the time. I really, really related to Max Fischer, his overachieving yet somehow still failing sensibility. I was coming into my own as a film buff at the time. And so I was noticing, Wes Anderson’s nods to The Graduate and to the French New Wave and those movies so it was the first time I was becoming really aware of film references, meta references and other movies. Better Luck Tomorrow, Justin Lin’s first feature I loved. That was a big one for me. Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. What else? Boyz N The Hood. I could go on.

ASFF: Were there any teen films that played into Chemical Hearts?
RT: I was focused more on movies about obsession and infatuation. We looked at Blue Is The Warmest Colour. We looked at In The Mood For Love, for composition. Movies that you would you wouldn’t think necessarily have a basis in telling an American teen story like this.

Chemical Hearts is on Amazon Prime from 21 August. For more details, click here.

James Mottram