THE GREATEST HITS Review: Strong Cocktail of Grief, Romance, Time Travel

Lucy Boynton, Justin H. Min, David Corenswet, and Austin Crute star in a film directed by Ned Benson.

Contributing Writer; Chicago, IL (@anotherKyleL)
THE GREATEST HITS Review: Strong Cocktail of Grief, Romance, Time Travel

The Greatest Hits wastes no time with set up.

The film opens with grainy and hazy images of two people in love, frolicking around a beach, holding hands at musical festivals, and generally doing things that young, hip couples do in LA. But the haze makes clear that these moments are memories and this love has been lost.

The film then arrives in the present with Harriet (Lucy Boynton), the surviving member of the couple, in an apartment filled with crates of records marked “tested” and “untested,” and a timeline going back about four years on a wall.

The timeline and notes on the crates make sense seconds later when Harriet puts on a record, sits down in a chair facing the speakers (in a fun visual reference to the classic Maxell ad) and is transported to another time when Max (David Corenswet) was alive. To be more precise, a time shortly before the car crash that would claim his life. She pleads with him to take another route, but can’t convince him and returns once again to the present.

It’s a remarkable first five or so minutes that brilliantly sets up the film’s high concept premise and the emotional stakes of Harriet’s quest. That efficient world-building continues with a brief montage of Harriet going about her day wearing noise canceling headphones except while at work at a library.

During the montage, insert shots show that she’s ripped out her car’s audio system and always has earplugs at the ready. All this communicates quickly that while the ability to time-travel via music may appear to be a superpower, it’s also a threat. Any song, at any time could whisk Harriet years earlier, and leave her body in the present momentarily lifeless or convulsing.

In this strictly regimented existence, going out to see her Black, gay best friend Morris (Austin Crute, who gives a lovely performance in a somewhat stereotypical part) DJ playing songs they call “safe” is the most excitement Harriet allows herself. Until she meets David (Justin H. Min) at her grief support group. He enters the movie with a literal bang; accidentally knocking over some metal folding chairs near the door of the large room that clang together announcing a disruption to Harriet’s sonically curated life.

David and Harriet immediately connect. It takes about three lines for them to establish an easy rapport that allows them both to flirt aggressively, offering viewers the great pleasure of watching hot people with chemistry rapidly build romantic and sexual tension. They also share a love of music that leads to slightly on the nose conversations about how music can transport you to another time.

But these dialogues transcend corniness because Min and Boynton are so entirely committed to the emotional reality of what they’re saying. At no point in their discussion of music’s power do their words feel like cliches lampshading the film’s concept.

Instead, these talks highlight the intensity of the characters’ relationships with music and how those relationships allow them to so quickly establish a connection with one another. Albeit, some of Harriet’s more pretentious audiophile talk with Morris, while undeniably adding character detail, feels unnecessary and more annoying than anything else.

The Greatest Hits feels like a sibling of the recent wave of horror films that explore grief through unique premises, shifting the genre to sci-fi romance while still engaging the same themes with honesty. Considered among those films, it’s one of the best genre films about living with loss since The Babadook. It’s also one of the more surprising and complex movies about the topic, as its finale takes a genuinely unique approach to the questions about love and loss facing Harriet.

However interesting its philosophical stance on death and how the living can navigate it when offered time travel, though, the film’s most resounding joy is the outstanding chemistry between Min and Boynton. Their scenes together are more than the sum of their (considerable) charisma and magnetism, and make The Greatest Hits a great romantic movie.

The film opens Friday, April 5, in select theaters, via Searchlight Pictures. It begins streaming April 12, only on Hulu. 

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David CorenswetLucy BoyntonNed BensonRetta

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