Purple Hearts (2022)

I’m a massive fan of endearing ex-Disney Channel star Sofia Carson. So, it’s no surprise that I found her latest, Purple Hearts, to be an overly melodramatic yet somewhat charming romantic drama. Based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Tess Wakefield, the story follows a strong-minded aspiring singer-songwriter, Cassie (Sofia Carson), who enters an arranged marriage for convenience with a troubled Marine named Luke (Nicholas Galitzine), only to fall in love for real in the wake of a military tragedy. The film also examines America’s broken health system, conflicting political opinions, and the age-old axiom ‘opposites attract.’ With an upmarket Hallmark Channel sheen, viewers should know full well what they’re in for when hitting up this latest Netflix original, which may come across like a hokey Nicholas Sparks knockoff but fares much better than the streamer’s other shmaltzy efforts, such as actress-singer Victoria Justice’s recent eye-rolling Netflix-er, A Perfect Pairing.

Sofia Carson plays inked-up Latina Cassie Salazar, who works at a swanky Sothern Californian bar where soldiers from the local military base stopover between deployment. When she’s not serving drinks, Cassie performs covers on stage with her band, The Loyal. She dreams of making it as a big music star but finds herself in a financially tough situation after learning that her insurance won’t pay for the insulin prescription she needs to control her type 1 diabetes.

Where words fail, music speaks.

Nicholas Galitzine portrays strapping military soldier Luke Morrow who’s got problems of his own. As it turns out, Luke is being chased down for the $15,000 debt he owes to his scrawny drug dealer, Johnno (Anthony Ippolito), who helped him get high after his mother’s death; Luke, though, is struggling to make the repayments. With Luke cut off from his retired Military police officer father, Jacob Sr. (Linden Ashby), who severed ties with his son after his poor life choices, Luke has run out of options and has little means to attain fast cash.

Out of options, a desperate Cassie visits her childhood friend, Frankie (Chosen Jacobs), a new Marine soon to be deployed, and suggests they speedily marry so that she can use his spousal medical insurance. Cassie proposes the idea so that she can use the Marine Corps’ spousal healthcare benefits for her medical needs; Frankie, however, turns the offer down — he is already in a loving relationship with a young woman named Riley (Breana Raquel). Luke, however, overhears the entire conversation and eventually comes around to the dubious idea, hoping to use the money to pay off his lingering debt. The problem is, Luke and Cassie butt heads — she’s a progressive liberal who hangs Black Lives Matter and queer-rights flags from her ramshackle Oceanside apartment balcony, while he’s a macho right-wing all-American boy who only displays about two emotions.

How can we be lovers if can’t be friends?

Despite their differences, Cassie and Luke agree to marry for their own pragmatic reasons, deciding to play make-believe for a year before they file for a divorce. With mere days to go until Luke ships out to Iraq, the couple must play husband and wife, keeping the arrangement hidden from their respective friends and families to avoid a court-martial, which is what will happen if their secret is ever exposed. And so, as Luke tries to fake a whirlwind romance to convince all his military comrades of his newfound love, Cassie strives to prove to those around her that she’s fallen head over heels for Luke, video calling her hubby and keeping contact while separated.

Adeptly directed by Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum, who’s primarily worked in television, Purple Hearts is at its best when it’s flirting with the ‘will they or won’t they’ aspects of the narrative. The best of these is a bit where Cassie writes and then sings a mushy ballad, ‘Come Back Home,’ for Luke and the troops while they’re away via video call, with the track becoming somewhat of a viral sensation and kick-starting Cassie’s musical journey. Although this whole ‘aspiring singer’ thread feels like a reason to get Carson behind the mic and up on stage, it works in the narrative’s favor and gives songwriters Justin Tranter and star Sofia Carson an opportunity to showcase four original tracks they composed for the film.

One more time for the newlyweds.

Alas, Rosenbaum complicates matters with a slew of other obstacles (that presumably feature in the novel), which distract from the core drama and add to the flick’s overlong 122-minute run time — thrown into the mix are tragic deaths, drug dealer squabbles, home invasions, and family drama. Additionally, some of the writing (the script is credited to Kyle Jarrow and Liz W. Garcia), mainly the couple’s political quarrels, comes across as forced (think juvenile Twitter spats), but Galitzine and Carson constantly manage to pull these arguments off. Even though Purple Hearts tries to explore opposing political ideals, it stays relatively neutral throughout; the film sides with feminist Cassie when she’s on one of her right-sided rants but also presents a positive portrait of Marine duty, even when tragedy strikes for Luke and he returns to California early a wounded man, which causes a slew of other complications for the couple.

The whole film is anchored by the electric Sofia Carson, Feel the Beat (2020), who really sizzles as Cassie, the struggling daughter of an immigrant single mother who’s fought for everything in her life. It’s clear that Carson is passionate about this project (she shares an executive producer credit on the film), and her performance really shows. Nicholas Galitzine, hot off last year’s Cinderella remake, is also good as Luke; he’s somewhat unlikable at first but lets his guard down after getting close to Cassie. Outside of our principal couple, other performers struggle to make an impact, with only Chosen Jacobs, It (2017), standing out as Cassie’s childhood pal, Frankie.

Be still my Purple Heart

Purple Hearts is overly schmaltzy and tailor-made for a particular type of audience, but it does its job, and relatively well. If only filmmaker Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum had put more of a focus on the enemies-turned-lovers storyline without adding all of the access fat, then maybe we would have had a more memorable final product. At the very least, I hope Purple Hearts serves as a steppingstone for Carson’s career and leads her onto bigger and better things.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)

Purple Hearts is currently streaming on Netflix