‘The Greatest Hits’: Save your time

(1.5 stars)

You know how a pop song from a moment in your past can bring that moment back to life in colors, smells, memories and emotions? “The Greatest Hits” takes that idea and literalizes it right into the ground.

The film is one of those romantic fantasies that enlists time travel as the primary obstacle keeping two people from getting together. Make that one of the obstacles; the others in “The Greatest Hits” are the heroine’s growing collection of vinyl records and her habit of wearing noise-canceling headphones wherever she goes. The course of true love never did run smooth.

Harriet (Lucy Boynton) is mourning the loss of her boyfriend Max (David Corenswet) in a car crash that also delivered a bonk to her noggin that allows her to whoosh back in time — but only when she hears a song that triggers a moment the couple had together. Thus the headphones; otherwise, the tunes streaming from supermarket speakers and other people’s car radios would have her constantly yo-yoing back and forth between then and now. The records she’s obsessively collecting are an effort to find the one song that might give her a chance to alter events and keep Max alive.

Does any of this make sense? Of course not. Time-travel romantic fantasy movies never make sense, and when they’re done right, that’s the source of their idiot charm. 2006’s “The Lake House,” which involves Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and a magic mailbox, is a personal gold standard in this regard.

Complicating matters is that Harriet has met a cute guy at a grief counseling support group — that sentence alone announces we’re in Los Angeles — and is hesitant to open up and tell him about the whole trying-to-change-the-flow-of-history thing. David, who has lost both parents to either separate illnesses or just plain carelessness, is played by Justin H. Min, a likable actor who was the sensitive android of the little-seen “After Yang” (2022), a movie that you would be strongly advised to watch instead of this one.

What would it take to make “The Greatest Hits” work? For one thing, a music-rights budget that allowed for songs an average filmgoer might recognize, rather than tracks from the back 40 of Spotify or a disco remix of Roxy Music’s “To Turn You On.” For another, a script that avoids dialogue clunkers like “There’s a reason that in some languages, the word for love and the word for suffering is the same.” (I Googled it — didn’t find any.) Shopworn supporting stereotypes like the heroine’s sassy gay Black friend (Austin Crute) don’t help.

The prime offender, though, is writer-director Ned Benson’s inability to create three-dimensional characters, or even believable two-dimensional ones. Harriet is apparently a record producer, but we only know that from one dated reference to Alan Parsons and a brief scene of her telling singer Nelly Furtado to “add a little more compression on the drums”; otherwise, she’s an attractive blank space that Boynton strains too hard to fill in. The dead boyfriend, Max, is even more generic — a genial himbo with all the flavor of a catalogue model.

Benson made a stir with his debut, a three-film project called “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” (2014) that looked at a relationship from his, her and their points of view. His belated follow-up, by contrast, has barely enough personality for one. But he gets points for including the dreadful Kars4Kids jingle as one of the audio jogs that sends Harriet tumbling back in time — for a brief moment, the rest of “The Greatest Hits” seems much less irritating in comparison.

PG-13. Streaming on Hulu. Drug use, strong language and suggestive material. 94 minutes.

Ty Burr is the author of the movie recommendation newsletter Ty Burr’s Watch List at tyburrswatchlist.com.

Read More:‘The Greatest Hits’: Save your time

2024-04-11 14:31:46

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