The Greatest Hits Spins Alluring Affection

(L-R) Lucy Boynton and Justin H. Min in The Greatest Hits. Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Hopefully, any long-term couple out there has “their song,” the one that defines their relationship and evokes the most memories. Back in the day, it was probably the record with the most wear-and-tear of repeated use or the centerpiece opening or closing track of a mixtape or burned CD of greatest hits. Nowadays, that signature song is probably the one with that favored heart selection on a digital playlist or the one with the most repeat plays on your music platform of choice. No matter the technology or era, the song is, chances are, the one you might very well share on your first dance at your wedding. 

That’s all beautiful stuff, but The Greatest Hits, a new release coming to Hulu, takes the memories connected to music a demanding step forward. Once again, everyone remembers their one big song, but how about the rest of the music shared between two people? For example, what song was playing when you chatted over coffee one random morning a few years ago? What song was playing on the radio when you were driving and having an argument? Do you remember those as well? 

A woman and her boyfriend talk closely on a porch.
(L-R) Lucy Boynton and David Corenswet in The Greatest Hits. Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace for Searchlight Pictures.

If you do, golly, you have a steel trap for a memory. If you don’t, imagine the unfathomable research it would take to chart the soundtrack of your lives for even a single year, let alone several. That’s the extraordinarily unusual undertaking of Harriet, played by Bohemian Rhapsody’s Lucy Boynton, in The Greatest Hits. Yet, that’s not the entire challenge. Feeling a teensy-weensy bit similar to 2022’s Press Play, the complications of The Greatest Hits hinge on a soft science-fiction saga involving time travel and flashbacks by way of musical catalysts. 

Two years prior to the film’s present day, Harriet’s boyfriend Max (the upcoming Superman himself David Corenswet) was killed in a car accident in which she sustained a severe head injury. Since that day, if Harriet hears any song that was playing around her and Max, she is jarringly transported back in time to that exact moment it was playing with her full memories of the future. Accounting for that capability, Harriet has been charting the years, days, hours, and minutes of their musical history trying to find the gateway song to the right point of time to prevent Max’s death. The trouble is when undiscovered audio triggers hit and time pulls her away, Harriet will blackout and put herself in danger. Countering that hazard, she has resorted to walking around with ever-present noise-blocking headphones loaded with safe songs, working in a quiet library, and avoiding public music altogether. 

A woman smiles looking through records in a shop in The Greatest Hits
Lucy Boynton in The Greatest Hits. Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace for Searchlight Pictures.

For the songs Harriet already knows, these journeys can be nostalgically therapeutic. While holed up in her apartment with their adopted dog, Harriet will sit in Max’s old chair and use his Hi-Fi sound system to play cataloged records as a means to intentionally relive specific memories. In doing so, she experiences literal versions of the proverbial feeling of songs pulling someone back to moments in time. No matter, Harriet calls herself “haunted by music” and cannot let go of the quest to save Max.

Two years of sitting silently and not sharing in Dr. Evelyn Bartlett’s (Retta from TV’s Good Girls) grief support group (ignoring the usual “loss may be forever, but grielf is only temporary” wisom) have done little to deter Harriet from her personal quest. The one friend she has confided her condition to is Morris (Austin Crute from Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul), a long-time DJ collaborator and fellow audiophile from her previous music producing days. Morris has come to learn that helping Harriet enables her, and he often urges her to “live, baby, live” in the present. 

A man and woman walk around an outdoor arts concert in The Greatest Hits.
(L-R) Justin H. Min and Lucy Boynton in The Greatest Hits. Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Lo and behold in The Greatest Hits, a new romantic interest for Harriet presents itself with David, played by Justin H. Min of Shortcomings, a newbie in the grief support group. He lost his parents in the past year to illness, and the two bond over their mutual love of Roxy Music when their Meet Cute after the group continues to a record store. As Harriet lets down her guard around the exceedingly kind David during their dates, she’s torn on which man to ultimately pursue: the living one in front of her or the deceased one she thinks she can still save.

The strength of The Greatest Hits is two-fold. The first is the engrossing premise of time travel employed by writer-director Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby). Who wouldn’t entertain the possibility of correcting the past? Viewers will eagerly weigh the same physical and emotional choices as Harriet does against the experimental risks. The well-worn storytelling device of time travel has admittedly preposterous rules and effects, so to speak, in this movie, but the same can be said about any number of movies in this dramatic subgenre. The hook is still irresistible.

A woman smiles looking at a concert stage.
Lucy Boynton in The Greatest Hits. Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace for Searchlight Pictures.

The second strength rests on a graceful level of shared affection across the unique love triangle in The Greatest Hits.  It is a villain-less movie and a better one for it. Justin H. Min uncorks a kindly and completely different performance than his all-encompassing toxic asshole part from Shortcomings, and the result is a revelation. The optimistic longing exuded by Lucy Boynton (a Brit pulling American wool over our eyes with impeccable cadence and presence) never reaches a “girl, get over it” frustration point of disconnect. That’s thanks in part to the dreamboat figure and swooning devotion David Corenswet presents in his scenes as Max. If anything, there’s not enough Corenswet to raise a little more mercury in the movie’s thermometer so that its measured affection can coalesce into stronger, undeniable passion.

Merging this kind of existential melodrama with the outlandish happenstance of time travel requires characters audiences will care about beyond pragmatics and a lush production that can sprinkle magic on the grains of salt required. With the three charismatic and emerging talents present, the human appeal is covered in The Greatest Hits. The rest of the artistic alchemy comes from the eclectic and sizable soundtrack. Piloted by a poignant score and several new songs written by Everything Everywhere All at Once composer Ryan Lott, The Greatest Hits is a vinyl lover’s dreamscape that may very well add a few core tracks to your own life’s soundtrack. Plenty can’t and won’t stomach this type of sentimental movie, leaving it for the dreamers and romantics out there more than ready to drop a needle and be swept away.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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