The Greatest Hits Review | Skips a Few Beats

by Andrew Parker

Unbalanced, but still hitting a romantic sweet-spot that will be undeniably pleasing to some, The Greatest Hits is a high concept lark built from ill fitting pieces of other genre movies that came before it. There’s a good bit of High Fidelity, some healthy doses of About Time, The Lake House, and Back to the Future, and a dash of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for good measure. Nothing that arises in The Greatest Hits’ out there premise is all that new of an idea, and it’s even more arguable as to whether or not it works at all, but the cast is great and the streaks of endearment are genuine and amiable. The Greatest Hits is coming from a genuine place and with a fair amount of heart, which doesn’t make it very good, but at least makes it somewhat forgettable and excusable.

Music producer and sound engineer Harriet (Lucy Boynton) has been struggling with a unique form of grief following the death of her long term boyfriend, Max (David Corenswet), in a car accident. Whenever Harriet hears a song that reminds her of their time together, she suffers a seizure of sorts and travels back to the past. Whenever Harriet is out in the world, it’s a hassle, because she has to wear noise cancelling headphones and avoid public spaces to keep from spontaneously time travelling. In her home, she can spend the night going back to specific moments in a bid to keep Max away from dying in the accident. It never quite pans out, and Harriet’s melancholic journey is upended by a meet-cute with David (Justin H. Min), a kindhearted guy who attends a lot of the same grief support groups she frequents and with whom she shares a similar taste in music.

The Greatest Hits is the latest film from writer-director Ned Benson, and it’s a project that feels long overdue. A story credit on Marvel’s Black Widow notwithstanding, The Greatest Hits is Benson’s first film behind the camera since his tremendous debut feature The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, a film that suffered a bit by studio mandated cuts between its festival run and eventual release. While that film looked at love, grief, and relationships from an intense, epic perspective, The Greatest Hits comes with a lot more mainstream appeal, even if Benson can’t quite figure out what sort of tone he’s going for.

There’s a constant tonal war unfolding throughout The Greatest Hits. Benson never fully commits to lighthearted humour, outright overbearing melancholy, or romantic genre conventions. One scene could be played for laughs, while seconds later things are as serious as a heart-attack, and there’s no discernible or fluid transition between the two settings. The Greatest Hits is frequently jarring to sit through, and not just as a side effect of its protagonist’s unique condition, which is better left ambiguous than the spelled out version Benson tries to offer up here. One moment, The Greatest Hits is realistic, grounded, mournful, and naturally amusing, but those moments can switch up without warning into feeling force, manipulative, and sometimes downright morose. It’s like listening to a mixtape full of good songs that have been slapped together around a vague, unifying theme, but without any thought given as to how they play together. Benson’s erratic direction follows suit, with some scenes playing out like an A24 drama and others like a teen movie made for Netflix.

This leaves the cast in a bit of a pickle, since the characters are little more than stock romantic characters caught up in a convoluted plot that doesn’t make much sense if you stop to think about it (right down to the borderline stereotypical queer BFF character, which is still played nicely by Austin Crute). Boynton provides a nice dramatic anchor throughout, and even if the material is letting her down, she’s constantly able to do whatever Benson and the script is asking of her. Min brings a lot of charm and wit to the character of David, but he’s always sidelined thanks to the mechanics of a plot that’s moving too fast for its own good. Corenswet’s performance suffers the most at the hands of the plot’s machinations because Max is only glimpsed in brief flashbacks that pain the dead boyfriend as a bland sweetheart without any actual depth. It’s hard to fully buy into Harriet’s anguish because Benson never gives the viewer much insight into her loss in the first place.

The Greatest Hits is frustrating, but not altogether unlikeable. There are a handful of creative moments and genuine laughs – one involving possibly the most unexpected, bizarrely emotional needle drop moment in any film this year – and whenever the viewer can shut their mind off and take this as a low stakes romance, there’s some charm. It’s a heartfelt and more than a little bit corny reminder that nostalgia can be as harmful as it can be soothing, set to a stacked soundtrack. And if that’s all you’re looking for, you could do a lot worse than The Greatest Hits. Just try to shake the inescapable feeling that you’ve seen this all done better before and that nothing really adds up all that well.

The Greatest Hits premieres on Disney+ in Canada on Friday, April 12, 2024.

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