Set to be Netflix’s most-watched film this year, Purple Hearts plays out like a conservative fanfiction. While the film may attempt to portray a romance between two persons from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, its insistence to locate all its sympathies with the U.S. military overshadows everything else.
Sofia Carson plays Cassie Salazar, an aspiring musician who enters into a marriage of convenience with Luke Morrow (Nicholas Galitzine), a soon-to-be deployed U.S. Marine officer. Through Cassie and Luke’s personal life, the film fully devotes it storyline to fitting in as many issues as possible.
The child of an illegal immigrant, Cassie is shown to be working multiple jobs to pay off her debt, while struggling to afford insulin medication for herself. Luke, on the other hand, is a recovering addict, estranged from his family, who has his own financial debts to clear. Initially getting off on the wrong note, owing to their vastly different political views, Luke and Cassie eventually figure out that entering into a fake marriage would provide Cassie with the medical insurance cover to pay for her medication, while also giving Luke access to a monthly allowance.
Immigration, the Big ‘unaffordable’ Pharma, the drug epidemic, and the Unites States’ frequent foreign military interventions — Purple Hearts is a melting pot of American problems. However, director Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum doesn’t take this opportunity to make social commentaries. Through the almost two-hour duration of the film, we see these obstacles papered over by simplistic solutions, almost all of which find their origins in the conservative line of argument. Eventually, this leaves little faith in Luke and Cassie’s individual convictions that formed the basis of their disagreement.
Purple Hearts has also raked in views since it has been sold as a story about people who come together despite their differences, the classic and evergreen ‘enemies-to-lovers’ trope. While an uncomplicated cliché to enact, it is as easy to get wrong as it is entertaining.
Cassie and Luke are presented as steadfastly placed on opposing ends of the political spectrum. The film’s end goal being that these two find a way to overcome their differences hurtles the characters to that common ground, leaving behind a jumbled mess.
While Cassie, a liberal minority second-generation immigrant, is at first shown to be critical of the military, by the halfway mark her character is unrecognisably devoid of any such feelings. Instead, the storyline veers into her writing songs for the emotional upliftment of the soldiers and caring for an injured Luke. When Cassie’s principles are written in as so fleeting and easily compromised, it feels less of a gamble, less of a risk and sacrifice for her to be with Luke, thereby making the basis of the plot wafer-thin.
In contrast, Luke’s character retains more consistency. His mindset of ‘not all soldiers are bad’ doesn’t waver, and his progression is written to show him embodying more military qualities. But this has little to do with good writing, and more to do with the context in which the film was made, and the production logistics involved.
The ‘military-entertainment complex’ in the United States exists as its own unique marriage of convenience between the two industries. For decades, the entertainment industry has been given access to exclusive equipment and location in exchange for a favourable portrayal of the U.S. armed forces. The U.S. Department of Defense to that extent, also consults filmmakers on the scripts. The final product of Purple Hearts is also reflective of the same, with Rosenbaum revealing in an interview with an outlet that a Navy veteran acted as a military advisor and tweaked the script to allow the filmmakers access to exclusive defense shooting locations. The change in the script, she admitted, was to balance out the portrayal of the Marine Corps.
Purple Hearts is a daunting undertaking in terms of genre. Not only does it aim to reconcile contrary views, but it also wants to do so in a politically-charged climate. Since it also treads the line of ‘the personal is political’, with both Cassie and Luke seemingly born into their political leanings, it should have centred it when resolving their conflicts. Choosing to sideline the same renders a shallow product.
For a film that ventures into so many political themes, this feels like a cowardly adventure, and the audience is left with a cookie-cutter Netflix book-to-movie adaptation.
Purple Hearts is streaming on Netflix