Film Review – The Greatest Hits

The Greatest Hits

The Greatest Hits

Music is such a weird and beautiful phenomenon. You can’t see or touch it, you can only hear it. And yet, it has the power to make people feel all sorts of emotions, trigger our memories, or get us to stand up and dance. It’s something that can’t be quantified but most – if not all of us – couldn’t live without it. That is what’s at the heart of the drama/fantasy The Greatest Hits (2024). In it, a character navigates depression through music, but perhaps not in the way we would expect. How well the film pulls it off is a matter of debate. Although I admire the ambition, I’m not sure the execution reaches it.

Writer/director Ned Benson presents us with an interesting set up. Harriet (Lucy Boynton) is going through a dark time. Two years prior, she was involved in an accident that killed her boyfriend Max (David Corenswet). Given that both were involved in music (she as a producer, he as a singer/songwriter), the event left a huge impact on Harriet’s psyche. So much so, in fact, that if she hears certain songs, she will travel back in time to when she first heard them with Max. No, I don’t mean as a flash of memory. The movie makes it explicitly clear that she actually goes back in time. This realization leaves us with a whole set of questions: If she can travel to the past, should she save Max? Is it right to change history, and what affect will that have in the present? 


The narrative never explains why Harriet has this ability. There’s no rhyme or reason she should be able to do this, or why music would jumpstart these episodes, but here we are. Benson’s style structures the time switches with heavy lens flares, blasting the frame with bright lights as Harriet shifts back and forth. Saira Haider’s editing connects images to highlight the transition. When Harriet falls in bed, sits up, or bumps into an object, etc., the editing/camera movement stitches her present and past selves to make the time travel smooth and instantaneous.

Much is made of Harriet’s love for Max, and how deep her depression has become. Certain pieces of music can set her off so drastically that she wears headphones to lessen the chance of hearing them. She attends group sessions, but that doesn’t seem to be helping. All of this appears understandable for someone in her position. Losing someone you love is not easy, obviously. The problem is that the narrative does not give a good enough reason for us to care about Max. Harriet was head over heels for him, but only because she tells us. During scenes in the past, Max is shown as a bit of a lazy schlub. His screentime is made up of him just lounging around, hanging out with the dog, or wasting time. There’s no sense of what made him so special, or why Harriet would risk everything to “save” him from his fate.

This loose character development ultimately takes a toll on a potential love interest in David (Justin H. Min). Harriet met David during a group session, and the two hit it off over their shared love of music. Just as he did in After Yang (2021), Min inhabits David with a warm, gentle persona. He represents a chance for Harriet to move on with her life, but sadly the film never allows that dynamic to blossom. The plot turns into a kind of love triangle, with Harriet stuck between a person she can’t get over and a person who could be her future. It’s as though there are two competing narratives that don’t coalesce. Is this a sci-fi story about Harriet trying to save Max, or is it about her finding a possible happy ending with David?

Watching this, I was reminded of the masterful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), which was also about love, loss, memory, and the manipulation of time. What that film did so well was use its set up as a way for its protagonist to come to terms with their situation. The fatal flaw of The Greatest Hits is that it forces its central character to ignore their pain. Instead of acknowledging her tragic experience and moving on, the writing/direction has Harriet try to wiggle her way out through a loophole in time. The writing trips over itself by making the time travel real instead of an abstract idea. Too much focus was put on Harriet wanting to save Max even if it means sacrificing what she could have with David. If we strip away all the fantastical elements and examine Harriet closely, we come to find that she is in denial. I’m not a mental health expert, but something tells me disregarding loss – or trying to “fix” it – may not be the best way of handling things.

The further along I got into The Greatest Hits, the less I bought into it. The movie wants its cake and to eat it too, by making sure all its main players get away unscathed. According to the narrative’s logic, the heartbreak of the real world can be easily mended, if not solved altogether. Of course, that’s not how things really work. I’m all for movies that are absurd, even nonsensical as long as it fits within the context of the story. That is not what happens here.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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