‘The Greatest Hits’ Review: Time Traveling Rom-Com Can’t Find Its Groove

Neither a clever concept—shared songs become a way of going back in time—nor a winning performance from Lucy Boynton can save this sweet but unsatisfying romantic comedy.

Justin H. Min and Lucy Boynton in The Greatest Hits. Merie Weismiller Wallace

Life is full of “what if” moments, a universal truth that is often at the heart of Hollywood rom-coms. Movie plots thrive on the idea of alternative realities or timeline swaps, but it can also become a gimmick if not executed well. That’s the crisis faced by The Greatest Hits, a sweet, well-intentioned romantic comedy with a good concept that’s presented with faltering effect. 

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THE GREATEST HTS ★★ (2/4 stars)
Directed by: Ned Benson
Written by: Ned Benson
Starring: Lucy Boynton, Justin H. Min, David Corenswet, Austin Crute
Running time: 94 mins.

Lucy Boynton plays Harriet, a grieving Silverlake hipster who lost her boyfriend Max (David Corenswet, the new Superman) in a car accident the year before. She keeps her life small, working at a library and looking after Max’s dog, in an effort to shut out both the sadness and the fact that certain songs literally take her back in time. Each time she hears a song she heard for the first time with Max, Harriet finds herself actually in the past for the duration it plays, a conceit that is both charmingly whimsical and metaphorically blunt. She’s searching for one particular tune, which they heard on the day he died, because she’s convinced she can stop his death. 

In public, Harriet hides under noise-canceling headphones and keeps to herself. She attends a grief support group, led by the sympathetic Evelyn (Retta), but sits in the back and never speaks. Her isolation is interrupted by David (Justin H. Min), who is grappling with the death of his parents, and sparks fly. The problem: They’re very faint, very tiny sparks and there is not enough chemistry between Harriet and David to convince us she should stop trying to resurrect Max. Writer and director Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) gamely builds a manic pixie dream world for the characters, shifting between the past and present as we learn how Harriet met Max and how their fate may connect to David’s. In the end, though, you find yourself rooting for Lucy to be with Max, a far more charismatic guy, which undercuts the point of the whole thing. 

Music is a powerful connective tool—the film’s soundtrack leans heavily on indie rock and nostalgia pop—and the idea that it could push us back in time feels true. Who hasn’t heard a certain song and felt themselves drawn backward? Many relationships are held together by shared musical obsessions, which become more complicated once it’s over. Seeing Harriet and Max’s partnership unfold solely through the moments when they heard a song for the first time is clever and compelling. It’s the present-day storyline that doesn’t connect, despite quirky set pieces like a silent disco and the requisite record store banter. (Not to mention a complete lack of logic to the time travel and its eventual result.)

Audiences seek out movies like this because they’re comforting, offering a reality where two pretty people find love despite hardship (at least, that’s what we are promised in The Greatest Hits trailer). Boynton is a winning rom-com protagonist and should be cast in more movies in the genre, ideally with stronger results. Although she tries her best here, the emotion never goes deep enough to impact the viewer in a real way, leaving you wondering about an alternative reality where this movie is a better version of itself. 

‘The Greatest Hits’ preimeres on Hulu on April 12th. 

‘The Greatest Hits’ Review: Time Traveling Rom-Com Can’t Find Its Groove