Young Hearts (2021)

Directed by Sarah & Zachary Ray Sherman
Written by Sarah Sherman

The teenager romance is a pretty common convention these days, ranging from the weepy melodrama to the raunchy comedy version of the same story. We don’t often get to a see a very realistic version of this story, however, as it is wrought with pitfalls. Who is the target audience? Most of these teenage films are targeted to that same demographic, so what teenager wants to see a realistic portrayal of their lives? No one, they’d rather spend time in the fairy tale or overly dramatized or over-the-top comedy. And who among us wants to revisit that awkward time of adolescence? And yet, here we are with Young Hearts, a realistic, genuine portrayal of young love. And while the film might struggle to find an interested audience, it’s actually a pretty great achievement in filmmaking.

Harper (Anjini Taneja Azhar) is a young freshman in high school, looking to make friends and fit into her new school life experience. She spends time with her friends, and sometimes the friends of her older brother Adam (Alex Jarmon). Soon, she finds herself spending more and more time with Adam’s friend, and their neighbor, Tilly (Quinn Liebling). Harper and Tilly form a young bond that blossoms from an awkward friendship to a full fledged relationship. But just as quickly as they find their happiness, the tension between Tilly and Adam mounts (who would still be friends with the dude dating your sister?), as do the rumors around school which slanders Harper and Tilly’s relationship, bringing the joyousness of their bond to a screeching halt. Teenagers can be so mean, can’t they.

Initially, I was pretty unsure about this film. For one, it takes the very brave step of using age appropriate actors in the roles of these high schoolers. We don’t see twentysomethings inhabiting these roles, instead we get real, actual teenagers. As a result, I think the film comes across as much more organic and real than it otherwise would have been. Certainly, it is a little rough around the edges as a result, but I think it captures so much about the high school experience accurately. Harper and her interactions with not only friends but also Tilly start so awkwardly. Like, genuinely awkward, which makes the film difficult to watch at times, while also managing to be a great strength of the film. Harper and Tilly start by asking stupid questions and spending most of their walks in silence, but we see that relationship grow over time to the point where they have these joyous interactions where we can see them grow more comfortable, closer together. The Sherman’s are really patient in letting these things develop over the course of the film.

It also tackles some difficult topics, including sex and bullying. For the most part, the film is surprisingly sex positive, at least as sex positive a film about young high schoolers can be. Some will take offense to people this young being sexually active, but the film depicts them being safe, and not using it casually. Harper is shown as being completely in control of what she wants. That is a hard balancing act for the film, but I think it pretty much pulls it off. But of course with that comes the nasty bullying and rumor mill that is constant in any high school setting. The dynamics at play are really well handled to the point that I was truly impressed with the cast in their performances, subtle but expressive, and the direction/writing, which delivers the story in a very real, authentic manner doesn’t go too far in any of the potential pitfall wrong directions that many films before it have. Young Hearts is a pleasant surprise of a film that might struggle to find its audience, but not for a lack of stellar filmmaking and storytelling.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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