The Ultimate Playlist of Noise abandons an interesting conceit for a far more staid one but still manages to be charming enough in spurts.
Sound of Metal meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower in The Ultimate Playlist of Noise, Hulu’s new teen dramedy that chronicles a high schooler’s final weeks before undergoing brain surgery that will render him deaf. A music lover known for his ability to craft immaculate playlists for any occasion, Marcus (Keean Johnson) sets out on a road trip to record 50 of the greatest, most unique, and personal favorite noises that he will miss most upon his hearing loss. A cow mooing? A strike in bowling? A thunderstorm? 100 soda cans opening at once? Yep, the classics are all there. Unfortunately, director Bennett Lasseter (son of Pixar founder John Lasseter) and writer Mitchell Winkie are under the misguided belief that this is not nearly enough plot for a feature-length film, and so they instead pad the proceedings with both a potential love interest (Madeline Brewer) and soap opera-level family theatrics involving Marcus’s deceased brother, leaving the titular raison d’etre as nothing more than window dressing for some melodramatic pap that’s been seen a thousand times before. It’s an odd choice, to be sure, especially when the main hook is such a great one, the equivalent to subbing out Led Zeppelin for Limp Bizkit on an all-time-greats playlist.
It doesn’t help matters that the aforementioned apple of Marcus’s eye is yet another tired variation on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl cutout, an aspiring singer and songwriter who exists solely to aid our hero on his journey and provide emotional support when necessary. You would think a film about the beauty and intricacy of everyday sounds would at least deliver when it comes to its sonic design, and yet not a single interesting thing is done in this regard, save for a three-minute sequence near film’s end executed in complete and uncomfortable silence. Yet, just as you start to think this plucky aesthetic choice merits some praise, the film’s generic score slowly starts up once more, and voiceover narration fills the quiet void, eliciting nothing more than a heavy sigh. Despite all of these shortcomings, the movie does manage to be affecting in isolated moments, helped largely in part by the performances of its two leads, the duo sharing an easygoing chemistry. They’re aided by a screenplay that gives them dialogue surprisingly free of sarcasm and already-dated pop culture references, no small feat when seemingly every movie geared toward teens nowadays comes from the John Green school of hyperliteracy. That soft template-busting even somewhat extends to the film’s central romance, the resolution of which manages to hold a few surprises. And, of course, any film in 2021 that can successfully utilize Starship’s ‘80s staple “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in an unironic manner deserves some credit — that type of dorky earnestness is a welcome balm. So while The Ultimate Playlist of Noise may not deserve an intentional spot on anyone’s playlist, much like a Shawn Mendes tune that pops up on shuffle, you’re not gonna be mad about it, either.