Film & TV

Film Review: ‘Purple Hearts’: A Marine and a Feminist Walk Into a Bar …

BY Mark Jackson TIMEJuly 31, 2022 PRINT

Rotten Tomatoes: “Purple Hearts”: Critics: 22—Audience: 88

The small, liberal, film-critic community is pontificating from a tiny island isolated in the ocean of America’s largely conservative Silent Majority, via the huge megaphone of Rotten Tomatoes. The numbers don’t lie: Moviegoing America loves patriotic and military themes, and the critics hate them and think they can change America by giving conservative content a big thumb’s down.

Meanwhile, the right is boycotting Disney’s new wokeness. (This I support; no sex education and gender hyperawareness for 5-year-olds in my world, thank you very much.) Conservatives are also generally boycotting cinematic art based on actors’ and directors’ liberal politics, regardless of whether or not these highly trained show-business professionals are technically skilled at storytelling in politically neutral movies. They hope to thereby stop the Hollywood juggernaut in its tracks and change America that way.

Left and right, both of the above are forms of attempted cancel culture; both sides are fervent and dug in, and such is the state of America’s movie landscape today. “Purple Hearts” embodies this selfsame political schism.

Diametrically Opposed

Based on the 2017 novel by Tess Wakefield, “Purple Hearts” is about very liberal feminist Cassie (Sofia Carson), an up-and-coming musician-waitress at Billy’s Breakwater dive bar in California. She’s struggling to pay the stack of medical bills that come with her Type-1 diabetes. When the counter girl tells her that the insurance won’t cover a refill, and that’ll be $500 out of pocket, please—you appreciate Cassie’s hatred of Big Pharma medical corporations.

woman singing in PURPLE HEARTS
Cassie (Sophia Carson) is a musician-waitress just trying to get by, in “Purple Hearts.” (Netflix)

On the other end of the spectrum is Luke (Nicholas Galitzine), a legacy Marine trying to get clean and sober, via the Marine Corps, from a strung-out addict past that’s trailing an accruing monetary debt. He’s not entirely gung-ho, but his buddies are.

Directors Ben Lewin and Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum appear to have intentionally cast his semper fi brothers as stereotypically loud, meat-headed jarheads for the purpose of creating diametrically opposed worlds, where never the twain shall meet. A story line needs tension, after all.

The directors succeed in making both the left and the right equally irritating at first—Cassie’s rainbow and BLM flags flying from her apartment balcony and her disdainful attitude, and Luke’s fellow Marines’ dog-barking and hollering “Let’s go kill Arabs!”

However, you know you’re living in a country that’s leaning heavily toward socialism and communism when both sides start trying to game the system.

PURPLE HEARTS
Cassie (Sophia Carson) and Luke (Nicholas Galitzine) definitely don’t “meet cute,” in “Purple Hearts.” (Netflix)

Sticking It to Uncle Sam

Luke and Cassie meet in a bar, immediately loathe each other, but eventually figure out that if they enter into a marriage of convenience, solely based on reaping military benefits (Marines receive extra pay and spouses receive health benefits), they can game the system. Lord knows, they both need the money: She needs insulin, and he needs to avoid getting shot by his creditors.

woman and Marine and priest in PURPLE HEARTS
Cassie (Sophia Carson) and Luke (Nicholas Galitzine) tie the knot, in “Purple Hearts.” (Netflix)

And why game the system? Why, in this country of freedom and abundance, are people on both sides of the liberal-conservative fence willing to start stealing from Uncle Sam? Because Uncle Sam has become The Who’s wicked Uncle Ernie from “Tommy,” fiddling with our freedoms and abusing us.

And so that’s what they do. Luke and Cassie need to act up a storm, though, selling themselves as a real couple to their friends and family. But you know how it goes—a couple of those fake kisses have a bit of thoroughly unexpected zing, for both parties involved.

But eventually, of course, tragedy strikes in the form of an improvised explosive device, maybe a limb gets lost (I won’t say for sure), and the pH balance in their fake chemistry begins to slowly but inexorably shift.

man and woman kiss in PURPLE HEARTS
Luke (Nicholas Galitzine) and Cassie (Sophia Carson) experiencing some highly unexpected chemistry, in “Purple Hearts.” (Netflix)

Nicholas Sparks?

“Purple Hearts” is definitely in the Nicholas Sparks genre. Which, don’t get me wrong, is not a bad genre at all. “Purple Hearts” is just highly, highly predictable. And predictability itself is not a bad thing either; there are just different versions. It’s possible to create a paradoxical situation in film where the predictability can contain lots of surprises. This is not really that film.

This is mostly due to the quality of the acting. Or casting, rather. Nicholas Galitzine as Luke is a bit too wholesome and all-American (more than a little Tom Brady here) to pull off the kind of juvie who gets strung out on drugs to the degree the story claims he did.

Marine in dress uniform in PURPLE HEARTS
Luke (Nicholas Galitzine) preparing himself for marriage, in “Purple Hearts.” (Netflix)

Or maybe not. Anybody who’s read Navy SEAL Adam Brown’s biography knows that all-American heroes can have very shady, out-of-control pasts, but this is acting we’re talking about, and Galitzine tries hard but can’t really sell it.

However, the audience at 88 percent is not splitting hairs about this. And let’s be honest, there’s not a young woman—there’s not any woman anywhere in America—who’s going to split hairs about the quality of the acting here.

woman hugs man in bathtub in PURPLE HEARTS
Cassie (Sophia Carson) and Luke (Nicholas Galitzine) experiencing even more unexpected zing, in “Purple Hearts.” (Netflix)

Sofia Carson’s breathy musical stylings elevate the film somewhat, and her acting is fine, but I couldn’t help thinking that this was miscasting as well. There’s a ringer lurking in the cast: Cassie’s sister-in-law Hailey, played by Sarah Rich, would have been pretty magical casting for the lead. I’ve seen Rich onstage; she’s a high-powered thespian rocket just waiting for the right role to come along and light her fuse to stardom.

We Can Only Hope

So, will Cassie and Luke stay together? Or fall apart just as quickly as they met? It’s not rocket science. But it’s fun that “Purple Hearts” applies the “opposites attract” concept to the extreme distance between the sides of today’s American politics, and tells a story about that. And it’s wordplay: The purple heart medal is for warriors wounded in battle, and, if conservative red and liberal blue fall in love—the color of that combined heart is purple.

But seriously, an oorah Marine falling in love with a pink-hat-wearing, Trump-hating feminist? Is that not wishful thinking? It’d be nice if America could get a whole bunch of these types of romances going and heal our national rift that way. America needs healing. But while “Purple Hearts” is unrealistic, America can dream, can’t it?

“Purple Hearts” began streaming on Netflix on July 29, 2022. 

Movie poster for "Purple Hearts."
Movie poster for “Purple Hearts.” (Netflix)

‘Purple Hearts’
Directors: Ben Lewin, Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum
Starring: Sofia Carson, Nicholas Galitzine, Sarah Rich, Chosen Jacobs, Kat Cunning, Linden Ashby, Anthony Ippolito, John Harlan Kim, Scott Deckert
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2022
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
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