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Down Low on Letterboxd: ‘Purple Hearts’

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Ed Passi.

Hello everybody, and welcome to the fifth edition of “Down Low on LetterBoxd,” where I review the lowest-rated movies on Letterboxd—a  social film reviewing site


Today, I’m reviewing the infamous “enemies-to-lovers” Netflix original “Purple Hearts,(with a rating of 2.2 out of 5) based on the book of the same name. Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum (best known for “Aquamarine” and “Ramona and Beezus”) directed the film. This starred “Red, White, and Royal Blue” lead Nicholas Galitzine, and former Disney Channel star Sofia Carson, who also produced the film. 


The premise of this film alone created its infamy. It’s the unfortunately typical premise of a liberal woman and a republican man falling in love, finding “common ground” and agreeing to disagree on the politics of basic human rights. The reason for the film’s insipid title was not only to reference the honor of a purple heart in the context of military service, but to make the point that red and blue make purple, which is supposed to symbolize the two leads finding harmony. 


Luke (Nicholas Galitizine) is an American marine who owes debt to a drug dealer, and Cassie (Sofia Carson) is a diabetic struggling musician who likes keeping her hair in her shirt. Cassie is struggling to pay for her insulin, so she suggests a marriage of convenience with Luke so she can get health insurance and he can get the money to pay the dealer. The unrealized irony of this setup is that Cassie’s troubles stem from conservative policies against universal health care, policies that Luke would no doubt vote for. Of course, the film does not address this point, even in passing.      


The after-wedding is the most infamous scene of the film, when one of Luke’s marine buddies shouts in a crowded restaurant that he wants to “hunt down Ay-rabs,” and Cassie is treated like she is the one in the wrong for calling him out on it. For some reason Luke and Cassie have sex that same night. I wish I could tell you why Cassie begins to like Luke after letting his friend spew anti-Arab violence in a public place, but I have no answer. 


This scene is evidence of the inherent problem of this film’s theme: that love conquers political differences. The difference of opinion between the two leads is not just disagreeing on how to enact tax policy or the role of government (things people can disagree on politically and still be friends); the two leads disagree on basic human rights and whether people in the Middle East have a right not to be bombed. These are not things two lovers can disagree on without one party excusing the other’s terrible politics. It’s the typical real-life trope of the “liberal” white girl who excuses her homophobic boyfriend’s casual use of slurs because “he’s really sweet.”


Films like “Purple Hearts” that claim to be “centrist” or take “both sides of the issues” perpetuate the idea that politics don’t affect people, but they do. Voting for anti-abortion laws hurt people with uteruses, voting for homophobic politicians hurts queer people, blocking bills against welfare reform and universal healthcare hurts anyone who isn’t the 1% and acting like it isn’t is naïve, at best, and dangerous, at worst. 


If any of the two leads changes their political views, it’s Cassie. Throughout the film, Luke never reflects on his friend’s racism or the role of the U.S. military in the global sphere. On the other hand, Cassie has to let go of her “anti-marine bias” and only finds success through a pro-veteran song that she writes for Luke called “Come Back Home.” Through Cassie’s change and Luke’s lack thereof, the veneer of centrism is revealed to be conservatism. The marines are represented in a rose-colored fashion. There is never a moment where Luke is ever shown to be in the wrong, unlike with Cassie.   


The movie’s idea of what “left-leaning” politics are is comedically undefined. Beyond Cassie’s Black Lives Matter and Pride flag, and her general disdain for marines, the audience is never given insight on what she specifically believes and why. The same goes for Luke. Beyond sexual-tension infused quips, neither lead has a moment where they have a real political debate or an actual conversation about their politics. 


The intended moral of this film of “love conquers all” ends up coming out like if you’re both conventionally attractive, it doesn’t matter if one of you doesn’t believe in gay rights. “Purple Hearts” is like that one relative you only see at Thanksgiving that “just wants everyone to get along,” but will allow their spouse to say slurs at the dinner table and will get mad at you for calling them out. It’s a first grade level understanding of the modern political zeitgeist, because being tolerant of the intolerant doesn’t keep the peace, it hurts the marginalized.  


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