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‘The Greatest Hits’ Review: Ned Benson Explores The Transformative Power Of Music – SXSW

Ned Benson’s The Greatest Hits is a poignant exploration of grief, memory and the transformative power of music, marking his foray into magical realism. At its core, this film, brought to life by a vibrant cast including Lucy Boynton, David Corenswet, Retta, Justin H. Min and Austin Crute that delves deep into the psychological intricacies of mourning and the painstaking journey toward healing and acceptance.

The film begins with a vivid montage of Harriet (Boynton) and her boyfriend Max (Corenswet), capturing their blissful moments together through a series of concerts, road trips and encounters with nature. This idyllic sequence swiftly transitions to a scene of Harriet alone in her dimly lit apartment, a tangible representation of her life led by loss. Surrounded by the remnants of her past, she engages in a unique form of time travel triggered by music, which transports her back to moments shared with her boyfriend, highlighting their connection and the painful realization of her inability to alter their fate.

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As Harriet grapples with the weight of her grief, attending group counseling sessions led by Dr. Evelyn Bartlett (Retta) without finding the courage to voice her turmoil, she encounters David (Min), a fellow group member. Their budding relationship offers a glimpse of hope, yet Harriet’s journey is complicated by the music-induced time travel that vividly rekindles her memories of David. Despite the support from her understanding friend Morris (Crute), she faces the daunting task of navigating her grief, understanding the ephemeral nature of her musical time travels and the realization that moving forward requires letting go of the past to embrace the possibility of new beginnings.

The narrative centers on Harriet, portrayed with a delicate balance of vulnerability and determination by Boynton, whose life is fragmented by David’s absence. The film’s use of music as a conduit for time travel offers a unique lens through which we experience Harriet’s sorrow and her desperate attempts to change the past. This mechanism not only serves as the film’s central anchor but also as a profound commentary on the impact of music on our lives and memories.

Benson’s script, inspired by Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia, brings together themes of love, loss and the healing power of music, presenting a story that is both magically real and deeply human. The film’s visual storytelling, transitioning from memory to the somber tones of her present reality, effectively mirrors the emotional landscapes she navigates.

The Greatest Hits shines brightest in its heartfelt portrayal of grief and the painstaking process of moving forward. The film thoughtfully articulates the message that healing requires not only confronting and releasing our past but also opening ourselves to new possibilities and connections brings authenticity and emotional resonance to Benson’s vision, capturing the dynamics of mourning and the redemptive power of human connection.

However, the film is not without its flaws. The character of Morris, Harriet’s gay Black friend, falls into a familiar trope that, despite the actor’s commendable performance, feels underdeveloped. Additionally, the group therapy sessions, introduced as a significant element of Harriet’s journey, unfortunately are sidelined, leaving a potentially rich vein of character development and narrative depth unexplored.

Benson, who signed with CAA in January, broke out a decade ago with his Cannes-premiering The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. The Greatest Hits is a testament to his growth as a filmmaker and storyteller with his ability to tackle familiar themes with an imaginative approach. The film’s exploration of music’s role in our emotional lives and history is a moving portrayal that offers audiences a reflective journey through the intricacies of love, loss and, ultimately, hope.

Title: The Greatest Hits
Festival: SXSW (World Premiere)
Director-Screenwriter: Ned Benson
Cast: Lucy Boynton, Justin H. Min, David Corenswet, Austin Crute, Retta
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Running time: 1 hr 34 min

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