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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    ‘The Greatest Hits’: Time travel-by-song hook is catchy in fantasy-romance

    Ned Benson appreciates how music and memory can become intertwined — how music can bring you back to a certain place, time or — perhaps most importantly — person.

    The idea for “The Greatest Hits” — a fairly melodic fantasy-romance film written and directed by Benson that had its premiere last month at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, saw a limited theatrical release earlier this month and then debuted on Hulu — dates to 2008, when Benson read neurologist Oliver Sacks’ “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.” According to the production notes for the Searchlight Pictures release, the first draft of the screenplay followed the next year, with Benson picking back up with the project during the pandemic.

    In Benson’s occasionally magical tale, Harriet (Lucy Boynton) is still grieving the loss of her boyfriend two years after his death. However, Harriet regularly encounters Max (David Corenswet), briefly traveling back in time when she hears a song from their shared existence and being able to interact with him in a now-altered moment from the past.

    We learn that Harriet has been attempting to use these time-bending moments to change what is to come.

    “Hon,” she says after arriving back in the passenger seat of a car he’s driving, “I have seen what happens next, and I need you to listen to me: Please, please take the next right.”

    “That’s right,” he says dismissively but at the same time lovingly, “you can see the future. I forgot who I was dealing with. You should have said something.”

    “I have,” she says. “So many times.”

    He keeps going straight and another vehicle slams into his side of the car.

    This seemingly supernatural predicament — it is, of course, possible she’s suffering from a mental condition — not only is psychologically draining and keeping her from moving on, but it’s also downright physically dangerous. Lucy seizes and passes out whenever and wherever she hears one of these songs, so the one-time future music producer has taken a job at a library and wears big headphones everywhere she goes to block out outside noise in the name of safety.

    Nonetheless, she also spends time at home, going through records — via the music-listening setup she’s inherited from Max, including a record player, hi-fi speakers and a coveted but ill-fated used chair — to find the song that may allow her the future she desperately desires.

    Her life is further complicated when she meets David (Justin H. Min), who takes an immediate interest in Harriet upon meeting her in a grief support group, the former dealing with the loss of his parents. He, too, is a music lover, and soon the two are having a flirtatious argument about who gets to buy a rare Roxy Music vinyl at the endangered record store where her best friend, Morris (Austin Crute), is DJing on this night.

    Morris loves Harriet but also is quite tired of her wallowing in the past, both figuratively and literally, and encourages her to try to have something with David.

    David, meanwhile, is understandably perplexed when Harriet lets him into her world, gradually revealing what is going on with her.

    (If Corenswet’s name is ringing a bell, it’s likely because he’s been cast in writer-director James Gunn’s highly anticipated “Superman,” recently renamed from “Superman: Legacy” and planned for a 2025 release.)

    The lone area where “The Greatest Hits” lets us down is its all-important music. Mileage will vary with this, of course, but, to our ears, so many of the songs chosen by Benson, music supervisor Mary Ramos and DJ Harvey, a music consultant, are relatively bland and uninteresting. Obviously, different folks adore different music, but it’s hard to imagine some of the songs featured would delight audiophiles Harriet and Morris, and you can’t help but wonder if the project’s budget for music were only so robust.

    (For the record, we have no issue with the use of 2009 pop hit “I’m Like a Bird” by Nelly Furtado, who appears briefly in “The Greatest Hits.”)

    Still, as a love letter to the power of music — as well as to Los Angeles, where the movie was shot entirely on location — “The Greatest Hits” is well worth a spin.

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