Love Movie

The Greatest Hits

If you’re a genre nostalgic who’s looking for a romantic comedy that could’ve been made in the ‘90s or early aughts, and that features all of the comforting types (including the widowed protagonist, the dreamy lost love, the sassy, truth-telling best friend, the equally hunky potential new love and his cynical yet adoring sister) “The Greatest Hits” will tick most if not all of the boxes. The problem, in the end, is that you’re probably going to be too aware of the boxes as they’re checked—and although the performances are nearly faultless, the characterizations rarely rise above the requirements of their respective “types.” And only one of the three central relationships in this love triangle (between a grieving woman, the memory of her dead boyfriend, and the incredibly appealing new guy that she meets in a grief counseling group) comes completely alive as a person, thanks more to the performer than the role.

As a piece of filmmaking, “The Greatest Hits” doesn’t lack ambition, much less a pedigree. Writer-director Ned Benson took a huge swing ten years ago with “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” which recounted a relationship from two lovers’ perspectives, and was reedited into a combined, “Rashomon”-sh story (they were subtitled “His,” “Hers” and “Them,” and are available in all three versions). This new feature has a splash of “Slaughterhouse Five,” in that its heroine Harriet (Lucy Boynton) trips backwards in time whenever she hears a song that reminds her of a moment she shared with her late boyfriend Max (David Corenswet, James Gunn’s newly anointed Superman).

The big problem, for this viewer anyway, is that when the movie finally pulls the trigger on its concept and entirely commits to it, in a scientific procedural way, the story is getting ready to be over. Chung Chung-hoon’s shimmering, lens-flare-y photography, Page Buckner’s dense and meticulous but never showy production design, and Olga Mill’s costumes go right up to the edge of a sci-fi parable love story (parts of it are reminiscent of “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” particularly the moments when Harriet is triggered by a song and the movie itself seems to be straining and vibrating inside the projector) but don’t quite cross over. 

I wanted it to. I’m admitting that here, even though it’s poor form to dock a movie for not being what you wanted it to be rather than embracing what it is, because what it is becomes repetitive, and without enough real-world messy specificity to make the repetitiousness the point, and the reward, of watching. Harriet’s best friend Morris (Austin Crute), a DJ, keeps sweetly but firmly informing her that she’s stuck in a self-punishing grief loop and needs to get out of it because it’s turned into a sort of twisted safe place giving her permission never to move on. (“Grief is temporary, but loss is forever,” is her group’s mantra.) 

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