Director: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum
Cast: Sofia Carson, Nicholas Galitzine, Chosen Jacobs, Kendall Chappell, Linden Ashby, Anthony Ippolito
Genre: Romantic drama
Duration: 2 hr 2 min
Country / Language: USA / English
Purple Hearts is the latest movie in the long line of Netflix romance tradition: it’s adapted from a book, has an “opposites attract” pairing, and some depictions of sensitive stuff that gets the internet talking.
The romantic drama is about two Americans who, in spite of their common nationality, are from very different worlds. Cassie Salazar (Sofia Carson) is from an immigrant family; she’s a free spirited singer with a liberal streak who won’t let a 9-to-5 job imprison her. Luke (Nicholas Galitzine) is a conservative soon-to-be-deployed Marine who says words like “snowflake” and “woke” unironically. When the two first meet, things are heated and awkward. Cassie is opposed to what Marines like Luke stand for. But they are intrigued with each other. When Cassie’s debilitating health condition is threatened, she and Luke decide to get into a marriage of convenience. Hesitantly, they do it because Luke needs money to pay off a drug dealer, and Cassie needs the diabetes insulin rations so she won’t die.
Everybody knows how things will go because Netflix rom-drams are predictable above all else. Cassie and Luke fall in love as they get to know each other better. Based on the 2017 novel by Tess Wakefield, and adapted to the screen by Liz W. Garcia and Kyle Jarrow, viewers on social media have taken offence to some of the issues here. Their biggest issue is with the character of Luke, a Republican dude who thinks not everyone is entitled to healthcare, and therefore, people should not get into marriages-of-inconvenience to get monetary benefits. Of course he changes his mind when he realises there’s something in it for him too.
Cassie falling for him is not the only problematic plot for viewers (Netflix loves controversy so let’s talk about everything Purple Hearts does wrong). In a lunch scene, one of Luke’s co-Marines gives a toast to “hunting down some Arabs”. Cassie is understandably enraged to witness the fellow’s bigotry, but Luke doesn’t call him out. Instead, he criticises Cassie, saying her overreaction ruined everyone’s night. He bangs the table with his fist, yelling at both her and the racist friend to shut up. But it’s Cassie whose outburst at the character’s racism is portrayed as an overreaction, and that she’s being a control freak.
Someone like Luke, an American patriot from a “red” background, wouldn’t be the first one to get up and argue with racists, especially when his career requires him to protect US interests in Iraq alongside said racist friend. So it’s an authentic depiction of Luke. But the frustrating part is that Luke’s character never develops; he never realises his ignorance/passiveness nor agrees to stand up against racists and misogynists. Neither Cassie nor Luke change their political views or apologise about their views. The romance has them simply ignore their differences in political and ethical views… because they like each other … a lot. Cassie does sing “My thoughts aren’t mine, now they’re yours,” at one point so maybe Cassie did change a bit?
Director Rosenbaum claims that Purple Hearts is “about promoting moderation or centrism; that two polarising individuals can… imbibe each other’s points of view. When red and blue mix together, they turn purple, hence the name of the film.” But Luke and Cassie don’t have any deep conversation about these things, so you can’t say the film necessarily promotes “centrist politics’’. It promotes compromise and political ignorance. The couple only quarrel here and there while throwing around words like “liberal nuts”, “pronouns” and “blind obedience” carelessly, never to bring up these issues again.
Not that people care about that. The romance film has become the most watched content of the month with 100 million hours on Netflix, and is fast becoming one of Netflix’s most viewed media. Viewers don’t care that Purple Hearts avoids interrogating political division and American identity seriously, nor healthcare and military topics. Many viewers, but not all, just want to swoon when two good-looking people have cute moments like pretending to be in love, kissing at the behest of others, and awkwardly sharing a bed. There are some emotional pop songs co-written and sung by Sofia Carson that one might enjoy listening to (the movie comes with a complete soundtrack of original songs).
But the acting of the main cast is just… not the best. Both Carson and Galitzine, but especially Galitzine, just don’t display the acting range required of them. Chosen Jacobs, however, does the best he can with the character of Frankie, Cassie’s best friend. Jacobs lights up the screen whenever he’s around.
Purple Hearts is a picture that runs from thorough introspection and chooses, instead, to pack in as many “cute” moments as it can to make the teenage audience and Netflix romance fans go buckwild. So you have Cassie giving Luke a bath (a very awkward scene for the viewer), Luke playing football with an Iraqi kid, Naval activity intercut with Cassie composing music, and so on. But it fails as a great romance film because there’s little chemistry between the two actors. They’re pretty, that’s it.
One thing this movie isn’t, is unrealistic. The movie is realistic in its depiction of the main couple because truth is, many white liberal women (like Cassie) are known to compromise on their “progressive” values when they date or marry a conservative/rightwing man (like Luke) because it’s convenient for them. After all, white American women themselves don’t have much to lose in getting with men like Luke (it’s the illegal immigrants, homeless, LGBTQ+ members and POCs who lose, so Cassie is safe). Meanwhile, the men don’t really compromise, and when they do, it’s not enough. Ah well, such is life.
Purple Hearts is now streaming on Netflix
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