A fascinating subplot in HEARTSTOPPER, the widely hyped new TYA series on Netflix based on Alice Osman's highly regarded graphic novel, is very intriguing. A quartet of best friends has segmented because Elle (Yasmin Finney), who is trans, now goes to Higgs, the all-girls school. At the same time, Charlie (Joe Locke), Tao (William Gao), and Isaac (Tobie Donovan) attend Truham Grammar High School for boys.
Charlie has been out at school, and his group of friends is a delightful gaggle of genderqueer kids, many of who would be a perfect match for him. But when Charlie’s new seating assignment is next to the handsome jock Nick (Kit Connor), we follow a very familiar path of a gay boy pining for the handsome straight jock.
The target audience might find the series perfect, heartbreaking, and hopeful. Charlie learns to play rugby with Nick, who is delighted to find out his nerdy friend can also be an athlete. Their journey has a great soundtrack, as their friendship deepens over dogs, snow angels, and eventually dates and a kiss. They are not old enough to drive, but they are wise enough to gauge the rocky terrain self-identity.
Complications arise with Nick’s homophobic soccer teammates, but there are no surprises. In films from Maurice (1987) to Love, Victor (2020), audiences have seen this story before. Connor does lovely scene work and looks handsome when getting in and out of his rugby kit. Locke is making his screen debut and is perfectly cast.
However, the relationship between Elle - leading a lonely life at Higgs - and Tao, tall and gangly - is exciting new territory. Finney and Gao are great as they allow themselves to move from best friend to perhaps something more? Should there be a HEARTBREAKER 2, I hope this relationship becomes more central.
The ensemble is excellent, and the production is handsome. The animated butterflies and lightning bolts are a nice throwback to the material's roots as a graphic novel. The use of split screens is clever. And I enjoyed Fisayo Akinade, so excellent as a bratty teen in Cucumber (2015), now in the role of a brash, but kind teacher.
In days gone by, teens would be anxiously waiting for the phone to ring. Now, that terror is amplified as teens sit alone on their bedroom floor, waiting for an immediate response to a text. If that does not touch your heart, what will?