“It hurts to turn the radio on

Stamina’s gone

My spirit is weak

Because every time I start to move on

Keep hearing that song

I’m brought to my knees”

-“Now or Never Now” by Metric

Although not selected for the phenomenal soundtrack for Ned Benson’s follow-up to his similarly themed The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Metric’s “Now or Never Now” nearly sums up the plot of his oft-sublime The Greatest Hits. Harriet (Lucy Boynton), a librarian mourning the loss of her boyfriend Max (David Corenswet), is triggered by songs that marked their relationship. An obsessive cataloger (a great quality for a librarian), she has mapped-out the trajectory of their relationships in songs and memorabilia that she accesses in a controlled environment. For the rest of her life there are noise-canceling headphones that she uses to block out songs that send her back into the past.

Amongst those who know of this affliction are Morris (Austin Crute), a club DJ whose life is one endless party. When she stops by for a visit she texts first to make sure it’s safe. Lucy has been seeking professional help after her boyfriend was killed in a car accident while “This Is The Day” by The The played. She has had no luck, revisiting that song at home, to stop the moment of his death.

In her group sessions she meets the charismatic David (Justin H. Min), who is running his family’s furniture store after the death of his parents while details of their will get worked out in probate court. He’s also a fellow audiophile and they exchange details when both grab a Roxy Music record and work out a joint custody deal in a sweet moment. Together they bond over their collective mourning by hanging out and making new music, including an irresistible scene where they drive around and sing Nelly Furtado’s classic “I’m Like A Bird.” David is eventually convinced of Lucy’s power to time-travel through music and is enlisted in her mission to save David.

While the time-travel elements (if they are real or imaginary; let’s not relitigate the Aston Kutcher film The Butterfly Effect) can seem a bit silly, The Greatest Hits is all about sentiment. Benson, whose previous feature was available in three different cuts (Him/Her/Them), has already explored the beginnings and ultimate unraveling of a marriage. This is a film that’s also about building a life––and soundtrack––together. Similar to Megan Griffiths’ somber rock drama Lucky Them, about a journalist in mourning of a relationship, The Greatest Hits proceeds with a sober, inquisitive tone.

Much of the film falls on Boynton’s empathetic performance as she goes through the various stages of grief with the support of Morris and her record collection. Certain elements can be a bit clunky and, truth be told, the moving story of Harriet’s emotional journey was more than enough without elements of time travel. Music, however, is a form of such, and Benson spoke briefly in his introduction to the film about influences like Cameron Crowe, who famously makes monthly mix tapes that are a form of journaling. 

With a great soundtrack––boasting a new song by Nelly Furtado that becomes an anthem for Harriet’s recovery––The Greatest Hits plays many of the same emotional notes as Crowe’s finest work, including in a beautifully romantic sequence at a silent disco. Despite a few shortcomings, it’s a hard film to resist when Boynton and Min light up the screen as characters undergo what feels like an authentic process of mourning––apart from the time travel, of course.

While some pop music is entirely generic in its sugary construction, others take the elements of what has come before and make something entirely new inside the pop package––modern artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Kacey Musgraves come to mind. While The Greatest Hits might not inspire thoughtful essays, as a cinematic pop album it satisfies with a few somber notes, some lesser tracks, and a few terrific moments where it all just works.

The Greatest Hits opens in theaters on April 5 and arrives on Hulu on April 12.

Grade: B

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