Credit: Searchlight Pictures
by Ayeen Forootan Featured Film Streaming Scene

The Greatest Hits — Ned Benson

April 9, 2024

Ned Benson’s The Greatest Hits opens with its heroine, Harriet (Lucy Boynton), a young librarian, standing alone in her beautifully half-lit, tranquil apartment before a mapped-out board littered with various notes, date cards, and pictures of her and her boyfriend, Max (David Corenswet). As she closes her eyes, a series of snapshots of the young couples’ past moments and shared memories flash on the screen, accompanied by a piece of soothing ambient music. Harriet then pensively pours herself a drink, puts on a vinyl record, sits on the couch, and rewinds into her past with Max, before their car is suddenly hit. Perhaps these opening moments already testify in a glance what The Greatest Hits is essentially about: it’s a bittersweet story of love and loss, heartbreak and grief, life and hope, where Harriet, without ever being able to let go of the trauma of Max’s tragic death in a car accident, has found out that music — or more precisely, certain songs they were fond of — has the power to sustain her cherished recollections and, in supernatural fashion, allows her to revisit the past through occasional and brief time-travel experiences, she hopes to alter them in a way that might prevent the fatal incident.

This conceit and its accompanying themes may not exactly suggest the most novel idea, but it’s still a curious approach which, at least during the film’s first act or so, proves promising, especially as we follow Harriet in her more-or-less woe-ridden daily activities, her restless obsession for music (usually enlisting headphones or earplugs), and her nighttime loneliness in her apartment, where Benson provides enough space for Boynton to embody her character’s most profoundly hidden interiorities. To this end, the film never ceases to sneak us into different urban spaces — a record store, a club, a music festival — to both galvanize the film’s modern-day LA vibe and visual aesthetic and to delineate an overall panoramic view of its subcultural aspects.

But despite the considerable presence Boynton brings to her portrayal of romantic melancholy and passion, and her frequent scenes of intimate joviality with Austin Crute (who portrays Harriet’s DJ friend, Morris), The Greatest Hits mostly suffers from its failure to flesh out Harriet’s relationship with either Max or David (Justin H. Min) — a meek-mannered guy who has recently lost his parents and whom she first encounters at a meeting for grief sufferers — in her constant to-and-fro nostalgic re-examinations of the past and desperate reconstruction of the present. In other words, the main problem with The Greatest Hits — and many other indie-esque generics of a similar persuasion — is that instead of utilizing its runtime to develop or emotionally expand itself narratively, the film casually relies on a myriad of repetitive and talk-heavy situations to postpone arriving at the convenient conclusion hidden up its sleeve. It’s because of this that Harriet and David’s relationship, regardless of their continuous sharing of songs, listening of music, and indulgence of karaoke, fails to ever really get off the ground, and why the characters’ sentiments strain to achieve an emotional resonance with viewers.

In fact, without even emphasizing to what extent the time-travel flashback scenes either turn out unintentionally hilarious or superficially kitschy, The Greatest Hits’ intentional moodiness remains a far cry from achieving crowd-pleaser status; it’s much closer to a quite spontaneously assembled mixtape, shoehorned with both pleasantness and banality. There are delightful and clunky moments, and the whole thing feels like a journey through an amalgam of solid tunes and loose ideas; the curious is present, as is the familiar. The Greatest Hits is clearly an also-ran ditty, but it should also be easily recognizable to viewers that its heart is at least in the right place, despite the considerable hiccups part and parcel to its good intentions.

DIRECTOR: Ned Benson;  CAST: Lucy Boynton, Justin H. Min, David Corenswet, Retta;  DISTRIBUTOR: Searchlight Pictures/Hulu;  IN THEATERS: April 5;  STREAMINGApril 12;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 34 min.