Directed by: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum
Distributed by: Netflix
Written by Maria Athayde
I have a special fondness for what I call the Netflix coming-of-age rom-com dramedy extended universe of stories (NCRCDEU, for short, which I started cataloging here). As cliche as it sounds, my fondness for these types of movies comes from knowing exactly how they’ll end and that I’ll get to see a happily ever after. So when I heard that an adaptation of Tess Wakefield’s book “Purple Hearts” was coming to Netflix, I could not wait to check it out. I am not the type of reader who needs a beat-for-beat reenactment of the book on screen. Instead, when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations, there is one basic thing I look for — does the on-screen adaptation manage to capture the essence of the book? In this case, some of that essence made it to the screen, and some omissions even worked in the movie’s favor. Regrettably, “Purple Hearts”’ was almost entirely undercut by a poor screenplay which was a disservice to the actors, and the viewer, and made the book look like a Pulitzer Prize winner in comparison. Before we delve deeper into my problems, here’s a brief synopsis.
“Purple Hearts,” tells the story of up-and-coming singer-songwriter Cassie Salazar (Sofia Carson, who also executive produced and co-wrote the original song “Come Back Home” featured in the movie’s soundtrack), who dreams of making it in the music industry but struggles with insurmountable debt after a Type I Diabetes diagnosis. One day while working at her local bar Cassie encounters a group of U.S. Marines that are about to deploy to Iraq. Cassie has a particularly tense exchange with a Marine called Luke Morrow (Nicholas Galitzine), which becomes the driving force of our narrative. After learning that marine spouses are entitled to benefits like health care and extra pay, Cassie propositions her friend Frankie (Chosen Jacobs), also a Marine, for a marriage of convenience. This way, both, Cassie and Frankie, could share the benefits of their arrangement. Frankie denies her request since he plans to propose to his girlfriend. Hesitant, at first, and with a secret of his own, strait-laced Luke overhears this conversation and agrees to marry Cassie as long as they pretend to love each other. When Luke returns home wounded he is forced to outrun his past, face the reality of his fake marriage, and contend with the real feelings that start to develop between him and Cassie.
On the surface, this movie had all the tropes I look forward to in romantic movies: enemies-to-lovers, fake dating/marriage of convenience, and a cute couple. But if you look below this thin layer, the movie begins to crumble. One of its biggest shortcomings is the awful script with dialogue like: “look if I can trust a lib who doesn’t give a shit about the law or military” or “go over there and teach them pronouns.” But my personal, cringe-inducing favorite was, “What does your tattoo say? Socialism Now?” This is the type of writing you can’t make up. You have to see it to believe it. “Purple Hearts” is the movie equivalent of opening Twitter and trying to have meaningful conversations – it is not possible. Besides the script, the poor characterization of our leads works to the movie’s detriment. Characterizing our liberal stand-in, Cassie, as CNN watching, MSNBC listening, Pride and BLM flag bearing, and future is female t-shirt-wearing woman, and our conservative stand-in, Luke, as a gun-toting tough guy and self-righteous man is lazy. Even though this movie has a two-hour run time everything feels rushed which, in turn, makes the characters feel incredibly one-dimensional especially if you are unfamiliar with the source material. This could have worked if the movie had a tighter script or made an effort to make its characters less of a caricature of reality. Perhaps, a better way to develop these characters and actually let the audience get to know them over time, beyond the caricatures we see on screen, would mean making this into a 6 episode limited series or something of the sort. In the end, “Purple Hearts” lacked the nuance and tact to address otherwise serious and complex issues like contract military marriages, opioid addiction, the U.S.’s broken health care system, and the treatment of military veterans and their families which is alluded to early on in the film. Given my background in public policy, I know how important these issues are in the real world or maybe I was just expecting too much from this movie. Either way, this seems to be symptomatic of a larger problem I’ve been observing with Netflix lately. Why spend an alleged $200 million on a mediocre action movie like “The Gray Man” instead of spreading that wealth around and investing in small or mid-level projects? I was really looking forward to “Purple Hearts” but ended up disappointed. The Bostonian in me should have taken it as a warning that the arrangement of “Sweet Caroline” that plays before the movie’s title card – I don’t even like baseball but know what “Sweet Caroline” is supposed to sound like – was a sign of the things to come.
“Purple Hearts” Trailer