The Chemists, directed by Nico Fulton Lavachek, follows Jack (Jared Treviño), a hopeful movie star who gets a shot at the male lead in a blockbuster romance alongside starlet Mae Garyn Parker (Cambrey Watson). The only catch: they must spend a weekend together to determine if they naturally have chemistry. Minimalist set design and intense performances from the lead characters sets The Chemists up to be a riveting drama. While the movie comes together in a surprising and carefully crafted ending, it juggles too many subplots and moves at too slow a pace on its way there.
The Chemists establishes its main characters, the conflicts and their agenda early. Jack is broke and this potential role is a saving grace. He is also immediately star struck by the stunning actress. He is competing with decorated actor Calvin Weber (Alexander Huag) for the role, and amidst rumors and controversy surrounding Mae’s past, Jack must ultimately decide if fame and stardom are for him. Treviño and Watson are a great leading duo, not just because they look great side by side, but they play off of the other character’s shy-but-curious approach naturally. Unfortunately, the pace of most of their one-on-one scenes — whether at the kitchen table sipping a beer, or sitting on the steps behind a late night talk show studio — are too slow for a flirtier, more exciting version of their relationship to show. Their scenes often contain long awkward silences.
Several subsequent scenes don’t move the story forward enough for the amount of screen time they take up. Jack and Mae muscle through a painful dinner with the film’s alcoholic producer, only for Jack to stumble upon confidential director notes before they leave. The producer (Annette Gromala) never appears again, and it takes a lot of small talk to get to the scene’s conclusion. Simple shot-reverse-shot and a lack of movement within the frame during most scenes (characters are usually sitting or standing in one place the whole time) stretch them out even more.
The few shots in which Mae and Jack are more expressive — strolling near the shore late at night, or pacing and arguing in the director’s office — are refreshing but too few and far between.
The film picks up in its very final stretch, ditching its slow pace for a whirlwind retrospective montage that ties together many of its open-ended subplots. It ends with a brisk flair that energizes the tone and fuses the otherwise jerky continuity of the film’s previous sequences together. Overall, The Chemists is a well-cast film whose slow-burn style inhibits its character’s abilities to fully shine. It’s a clever and sneaky plot that could use sprinkles of its concluding zest throughout the rest of the film.