Last Updated: June 12, 2024By Tags: ,

When I hear the phrase “time-traveling romance,” my first instinct is to recoil. Hollywood no longer knows how to make intelligent films about lovelorn adults, nor can they make anything fresh out of the well-worn time travel plotline. While it ultimately suffers from a screenplay that gives up on its idea, writer-director Ned Benson’s “The Greatest Hits” finds originality in its concept of a young woman who can time travel to specific moments in her past relationship by listening to the songs that were playing at the time.

An exceptionally good Lucy Boynton is Harriet, a woman grieving the death of her boyfriend, Max (a dull David Corenswet). Two years after the car accident that took his life, whenever Harriet hears a song that calls back to a specific moment between the two, she is pulled back in time to relive the day associated with the music but is entirely aware that she is but a visitor. Existing in those past moments, Harriet tries her best to change the course of history. In the minutes before the crash, she constantly pleads with Max to take another route as he protests right up until the moment of his death. Harriet cannot change her late boyfriend’s fate as hard as she tries.

Harriet’s best friend Morris (a warm Austin Crute) tries to bring her out of this unhealthy two-year mourning period, letting her know how continuous grief can destroy her life. Crute performs naturally, making something sweet out of the standard “gay best friend in a Hollywood romance” role.

Further complicating matters is her connection to David (Justin H. Min, in the performance of the film), a man she meets in her support group who is going through his grief regarding the death of his parents. The two begin to fall for one another, and it is clear that David is a good and kind soul who respects Harriet’s quirkiness (she wears noise-canceling headphones in case a familiar song shoots her back to the past). Min’s work here is so naturally engaging that he grounds the emotions in reality despite the film’s time-traveling premise.

The power of music in people’s lives can make for a profound experience, and the premise of Ned Benson’s L.A. romance has an interesting premise that certainly opens the screenplay up to many possibilities. Unfortunately, a good deal of the interactions between the characters feel forced, and the director fails to dig deeper into any insight regarding grief and the human heart. While Benson’s direction is subtle, his screenplay has no weight. Scenes of Harriet and David’s support group are perfunctory, and the design of her scenes with Max gives no clue as to why these two people are in love. David Corenswet is the definition of bland and offers nothing to the role, merely lounging around each scene, making lovey-dovey faces at Boynton’s Harriet. Benson’s screenplay fails at making their relationship interesting for the viewer, thereby preventing any emotional connection to the story.

As for the music choices, there is no rhyme or reason to them. The songs chosen are just a jumble of pop songs. The film doesn’t give them concrete meaning beyond the fact that these were the songs playing in the background on any given day.

With all the possibilities a time-traveling film should open up for a filmmaker, “The Greatest Hits” feels too conventional. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung creates an excellent visual aesthetic, but Benson’s script is unwilling to explore. The filmmaker’s failure to probe deeper keeps this one a safe romance for the young adult crowd.

Two very good lead performances cannot save this one from the cinematic doldrums.