Cassie Salazar (Sofia Carson) is a musician who has just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Waitressing and working in food delivery to pay the bills and playing and writing music whenever she can, Cassie is barely able to afford rent, let alone expensive insulin when her insurance can’t cut it. So, after doing some research, she ropes a near-stranger, marine Luke Morrow (Nicholas Galitzine), into marrying her for health benefits, because the military gives spouses full healthcare. Hoarding some secrets of his own, Luke claims that the marriage will help him as well, since he needs the extra money the military will give him for being married. They’ll split the rest, he’s deploying in a matter of days, and in a year, they’ll divorce. Oh look, a match made in heaven!
Not quite. Galitzine and Carson do have chemistry together, and the scenes where they share their dreams over email and generally get to know each other better when Luke is deployed work well. However, Luke’s secrets catch up with him, not to mention the fact that Cassie and Luke barely know each other yet are trying to pretend to everyone around them, including their family members, that they are in love and married quickly because of it. When tragedy strikes, they grow closer than they planned.
Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum’s military romance is definitely trying to say something about the political state of America today, or at least the state of healthcare in the U.S. Working a nuanced political message into the somewhat predictable romance that Purple Hearts is, however, just doesn’t work. The dialogue that Cassie and Luke spout to project their views is unnaturally written and on-the-nose. Given how much they hate each other’s views, it’s surprising that they would enter into a marriage without giving the matter a little more serious thought. Honestly, the film’s easiest message to swallow is that the state of healthcare is hopeless for those with chronic illnesses like Cassie. However, when the film drops these elements after the initial set-up, the remainder is a much smoother ride.
As a songwriter, Cassie’s original music is everywhere in this movie, and even if it works thematically, Carson’s vocals didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid. She has a Disney pop star’s vocals, and sounds young for 29. On the other hand, the music lands as another way for Cassie to express herself to Luke and the audience. Luke is a bit harder to get a read on, given that his main character beats are that he’s a marine and that he has secrets he’s unwilling to share. They have chemistry as a romantic couple, but that doesn’t mean this story setup makes a lot of sense. There are plenty of suspension-of-disbelief hoops here to jump through, but once the movie properly gets going, its sincerity carries it along mostly effortlessly.
Purple Hearts is a military romance with some political edges, even if those edges drop off for the romance to shine as the film goes on. Nevertheless, every shot is well placed, even if the scenes of Cassie on stage with her band look as though they’ve been shot for a Maybelline ad and retooled for the film. Purple Hearts is sincere as a film, though, and the quality of the filmmaking, chemistry between the leads, and the film’s own honesty keep it from completely sinking under its own weight.
dir. Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum
Now streaming on Netflix