Heartstopper, on Netflix, is a British teen drama based on a graphic novel by Alice Oseman, about two high school boys in love. I hope it won't be like the "boys in love" movies of my generation, all angst and loneliness.
Scene 1: School bell. Artsy split screens of an ecstatic teen walking down the halls. Tinsel is coming down, so it's after winter break. He sends a text to Ben, no doubt his boyfriend: "Can't wait to see you," and heads to the deserted library for their rendezvous. But Ben snuffs him off. Uh-oh, I smell a breakup. The headmaster announces that there will be new students in all the form groups (classes). Foreshadowing!
The boy, named Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), registering for classes. The teacher (Alan Turkington, top) assigns him to Hamlet House, with Nicholas (Kit Connor, left). He's in Year 11, a year older than Charlie, and a star rugby player. "Ugh! Sounds awful. I hate him al...ready....um...wow, he's hot!" They have a shy falling-in-love conversation while animated leaves swirl around them. I associate falling leaves with mortality, death, and decay...do they mean something else in Britain?
Deeply closeted: when they pass in the hall, Charlie says "Hi," and Closeted Ben freaks out: "Why are you talking to me? I don't know you." If you don't want people to think you are dating, try a nonchalant return "Hi."
Meanwhile Charlie and Rugby Star Nick are doing cute things like trying to get through the door at the same time and accidentally splattering paint on each other.
Scene 3: Lunch outside -- in January! It looks freezing. Charlie is with his buds, Isaac (Tobie Donovan) and Tao (William Gao). A fourth member of their clique, Elle, has transferred to an all-girl school after coming out as transgender. They discuss who to invite to take her place.
Charlie: "How about Nick?"
Tao: "No, he's a Golden Boy and we're outcasts. He'd never go for it. Besides, he's friends with all of your old bullies."
Charlie: "He's different. He's...nice." Don't you mean hot?
Scene 4: Higgs Girls' School. Elle at lunch. She gets a text from Tao discussing Charlie's obsession with the Rugby Star. "What? No! He always goes after these unattainable Greek Gods, and then when they reject him, he's crushed!"
Pan out: Elle is occupying a table by herself. Everyone is ignoring her at the new school.
Scene 5: Legs get off a bus. Oh, it's Charlie. Why that weird entrance? And I thought this was a boarding school. If he lives at home, why was he put in Hamlet House?
Charlie has a make-out session with Closeted Ben in the deserted library, and then goes to the art room to hide from his friends during lunch. The teacher wants to know why. "Because my boyfriend pretends not to know me in public." Teacher suggests talking to his friends. "No, they wouldn't understand. They're straight." Then talk to Ben about your feelings.
Scene 6: Heading across campus to discuss his feelings, , Charlie sees Closeted Ben...kissing a girl. Charlie is just a little bit of downlow side action! Dump him, right in front of the girlfriend! Instead, Charlie just sends a breakup text without saying why.
Scene 7: Charlie eating corn flakes. Sister wants to know what's wrong. "I broke up with my boyfriend." "Was he a knob?" "Yes." So this isn't a boarding school.
On the bus, they discuss the kind of guy Charlie wants: "Somebody who's nice...and kind...and tall....." And hung to his knees....sorry. Although these are high schoolers, no one seems to have any sexual thoughts. It's all about holding hands and kissing.
When the bus arrives, Charlie brushes the condensation from the rain-soaked window and sees...Nick. A little too much symbolism there, innit?
Scene 8: In gym class, Charlie runs around the outdoor track. He's much faster than anyone else in the class. Rugby Star Nick notices and thinks he'd be a good rugby player.
He stops by Charlie's locker to ask him to join the team. Charlie imagines that he's confessing his love, again with the swirling leaves. "Aren't I too small and weak for rugby?" "No, it's just a school team, not the pros. Being scrawny isn't a problem."
Scene 9: Charlie's friends think the idea is dumb. "You're going to get battered by giant, moronic rugby lads just to impress a guy!"
At the door to the locker room, Charlie overhears the players complaining about Rugby Star Nick's invitation: "Ok, he's nice, but we want to win. Does he even like sports? He's gay!" When he comes in, they stop, embarrassed, and begin undressing (no beefcake).
Scene 10: Rugby practice. The other guys are ten times bigger and wider than Charlie, but Nick says there's no problem. "Just try to tackle me." He does.
Montage of Charlie entering the locker room (no beefcake) and being bad at rugby. When he finally catches a ball, the guys all cheer and hug him. Due to Nick's one-on-one coachng, he gets better, and is accepted by the team. Why is Nick so adamant about helping Charlie? No doubt he's interested, but not ready to admit it.
Eventually Charlie's regular friends feel abandoned. Elle stops by the school and looks concerned.
Scene 10: Closeted Ben alone the music room, being sinister. He texts Charlie to meet him after rugby practice. Rugby Star Nick sees him going that direction and is suspicious.
At their meeting, Ben gets it all wrong: "You're afraid of us getting caught." But Charlie notes that he's out to everyone! They argue. Ben yells that Charlie is too ugly to get anyone full time, so he'd better settle for a downlow boyfriend. Charlie still rejects him. Ben begins a sexual assault -- well, kissing him against his will -- but Nick intervenes and saves the day. Ben skulks off.
Charlie and Nick walk out together and say goodbye.
Scene 11: Nick's Mum is driving him home. I thought he was walking? He stares into space. Meanwhile, at the bus stop, Charlie tries to figure out how to text him a "thank you."
In the car, Nick gets Charlie's text: "Thank you x." He is startled. Then he smiles, and animated birds fly around his head. No leaves? The end.
Beefcake: None. The actors playing Nick and Charlie are just 18, young enough to be real high schoolers.
Other Sights: None. Maybe I'm just used to the baroque palaces and glass-and-steel megaplexes that pass for high schools in other teen dramas, but the Truman School is surprisingly banal.
Heterosexism: None. It's an all-boy's school. There is no locker room talk about girls. I understand that Tao will start dating Elle, which is heterosexual but still LGBTQ.
My Grade: This is a sweet, innocent drama, with no major crises, no paranormal, no dark secrets, and not much of interest to anyone over age 18. I'm actually more invested in Elle's problems at her new school than in Nick and Charlie's inevitable romance.