Netflix’s Purple Hearts, the streaming site’s latest romantic drama, starring Sofia Carson as Cassie Salazar and Nicholas Galitzine as Luke Morrow, is an acceptable showcase of the “marriage of convenience” trope with a dash of forced proximity. While the film is far from perfect in multiple areas, the potential is there, landing itself as a worthy watch despite where it falters. The film clearly wanted to showcase character development after the overt racism and military propaganda that’s trust in front of our screens, and while it does so to a faint degree by the end, I won’t deny that it could have (and should have) done a much better job of redeeming itself.
There are bound to be awkward moments when it comes to any form of the fake dating trope, and we’re pretty used to them by now. But it should never feel inorganic, as though the actors’ words are scripted. The awkward moments should fly off the walls, but the dialogue shouldn’t back people into weird corners. Some might say that the trope is generally unrealistic, and Netflix’s Purple Hearts attempts to bring something more tangible to our screens by highlighting that, but it could’ve been done through a more subtle approach. Still, if we’re being honest, the most unrealistic part of this film is the fact that Cassie manages to leave a concert at the Hollywood Bowl with zero traffic. Not sure what multiverse of LA this is, but it’s definitely not the one I’m living in.
Once you’re past the cringe-worthy beginning and you’re beyond the characters overtly forcing themselves to act like a couple, the film takes flight with some beautifully tender moments that hit in all the right ways.
However, before we get into the romance, we need to single out Sofia Carson’s Cassie Salazar as the effortlessly likable heroine that she is. Cassie is more relatable than most because we seldom see chronic illnesses on display at this caliber. We know that America is terribly cruel to those who aren’t white cis men, and we know how most law-abiding citizens suffer in the hands of a selfish, corrupt government. As she states in a heated moment fighting against Luke’s ignorance, she’s seen suffering firsthand through her immigrant mother’s experience, and she understands the weight of this country’s cruelty because of the life she leads.
Purple Hearts also makes it clear that our healthcare system is well … horrific. When Cassie learns that her insurance doesn’t cover the insulin she needs to survive, she asks her friend Frankie (Chosen Jacobs) if he’d marry her, granting her access to his insurance and the extra income from the military. He sadly objects, but when Luke overhears the conversation and mentions the legalities behind it, a furious discussion transpires about taking advantage of the government. At one point during the argument, Cassie fires back by saying, “Don’t tell me that you’re a resident of Southern California that does not see how this entire state was built on the backs of immigrants,” and I’m pretty sure I screamed “yes” aloud.
This moment is where it becomes easy to root hard for Cassie because it’s not difficult to understand the desperation that comes from working more than you should for a barely livable wage. But despite all his righteous, sometimes tone-deaf beliefs, Luke has a secret too, allowing his journey to end with necessary character growth. Viewers learn that for whatever reason, he owes money to a man named Johnno (revealed later as his former drug dealer), forcing him into going in on Cassie’s plan though he wasn’t her first choice. And once Luke gets to know Cassie, her music becomes the film’s anchor, allowing every character’s point of view to become ours. The best thing Netflix’s Purple Hearts does is use Carson’s vocals throughout. It’s hard to imagine how the film would work without Cassie’s music front and center, considering how it seamlessly thrusts the romance forward while allowing the character to grow in the process.
The romance starts to work best when Cassie and Luke both let down their walls and allow the other to take care of them. When Cassie’s understandable hesitations about Luke’s injury cause arguments, followed by his father’s involvement, the awkward moments expand briefly. However, after a gorgeously tender bath scene, their relationship begins to feel believable. The act follows traditional fake dating markers where both parties realize that they mean more to each other than they ever believed possible. At this point, not only do the performances feel more organic but the trajectory of their romance shifts towards something achingly raw and vulnerable.
Ultimately, one critical component that makes the fake married/engaged/dating trope exemplary stems from the quiet moments where characters start to chip away at each other’s walls. The natural vulnerability that’s uncovered starts to burst through their edges, allowing them to find solace where there were once uncertainties. Plus, since we go straight into the forced proximity trope in the film’s second half, it brings out their feelings more naturally, despite how seemingly unnatural the situation seems to be. Still, I’ll take “there was only one bed” over choppy dialogue any day.
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While Netflix’s Purple Hearts isn’t perfect, it’s a solid film, no less as a story about following one’s dreams while gaining a partner in the end too. Luke taking full responsibility for his actions and lack of transparency makes for a surprisingly pivotal moment, making me wonder where the narrative would go after his six-month sentence. And in a pleasant turn of events, expectations are subverted in the best way by allowing Cassie to choose both her husband and her dreams, ending with the kind of feel-good montage we could all use.
Purple Hearts is now streaming on Netflix.