‘Young Hearts’ Is Unpretentious In Its Subtle Teen Romance – Review
[by Nicolás Delgadillo]
There’s a confidence in the simplicity of siblings Sarah and Zachary Jay Sherman’s Young Hearts. The film opens on a gentle shot of fallen leaves, a clear symbol of change that sets the easy going but never lackadaisical pace. This is a classic story of young love, but not one that ever makes an attempt to force drama or create sensationalized situations. Instead, it allows its couple to simply be, to exist, and slowly foster their new feelings for each other. It’s an understated approach that works.
Harper (Anjini Taneja Azhar) has just entered high school, and feels an instant connection to a boy a year older than her, Tilly (Quinn Liebling). The two have been neighbors since they were little, but haven’t really had the opportunity to get to know one another. As the two begin to talk and spend a little time together, there’s an obvious spark between them. It’s clear that they’re on the same wavelength.
The film gradually moves the romance along, told through childish flirtation and admiring looks. When the two cautiously make out for the first time, it’s tender and cute rather than steamy, and perfectly captures the awkward giddiness one feels when they accomplish such a thing. There’s a benign sense of discovery throughout Young Hearts that evokes the butterflies in your stomach feeling that you never quite forget, and the vulnerable yet strong performances from its two lead actors are as much to thank as the film’s direction. It’s also refreshing to see high schoolers who actually look like high schoolers and not someone in their mid to late 20s.
There’s no particular conflict that arises until halfway through the film – when Harper and Tilly begin having sex. Once word gets around the school and the two are more confident in showing public affection for one another, it becomes increasingly apparent just how hostile everyone they know is towards their relationship. Tilly is best friends with Harper’s older brother, Adam (Alex Jarmon), but their friendship falls apart once Adam begins hearing rumors and is led to believe that Tilly was only friends with him to get with his sister. Tilly is ridiculed and made out to be some kind of horny freak, as if he’s only with Harper for an easy score and not because he harbors genuine feelings for her.
Things on Harper’s side are even more unfair. Young Hearts features an interracial couple, and while there are certainly undertones of what that means present in the film, it chooses to focus more on the double standards for women in society. Tilly does experience his share of teasing, but there are also classmates who treat him with higher respect, and he’s welcomed into the cool kids. Harper on the other hand, receives no such benefits. She’s largely shamed and labeled a slut, and rumors spread that she’s had sex with multiple boys before getting with Tilly. She’s even shamed by her own mother, who berates her for having sex, believing that she’s too young.
The film’s leisurely pace lends itself to all of these positive and negative feelings gradually bubbling to the surface. Characters’ attitudes towards each other are told more through subdued but meaningful looks rather than tedious dialogue. It’s certainly dramatic, but never overly so. What Young Hearts gets so right about teenage romance is the frustration that arises when something that makes you so happy also can alienate you from others. They can’t always share your happiness. You feel like you have less time for others, and that’s usually true.
Even so, Young Hearts isn’t a particularly challenging movie, nor does it reveal anything as profound as other recent coming of age films like 8th Grade or even Love, Simon. But it doesn’t necessarily need to. There’s a genuine sense of familiar warmth throughout the film that’s hard to describe – it’s almost like a time machine that makes you yearn for those youthful days again.