The Ultimate Playlist of Noise Review: Unremarkable and unambitious YA coming of age fodder
Although it contains a heartwarming concept and two leads that are truly rising stars, The Ultimate Playlist of Noise doesn’t live up to its potential.
When I first came across a trailer for the film, it contained all the ingredients to get me to watch it as soon as it dropped on Hulu. It looked like a perfectly heartwarming and life-affirming coming of age tale with a great concept about a teen named Marcus (Keean Johnson) traveling to New York City to record sounds along the way after being told that he will lose his hearing. Add in the fact that you have Johnson and Madeline Brewer, two really strong up and comers, leading the film and there’s a lot of potential for something special here. Unfortunately, The Ultimate Playlist of Noise is just unambitious young adult coming of age fodder whose script is a total mess.
The main concept remains sound and is given a little more heart through how the film introduces us to Marcus’ journey for sound. Marcus being a master playlist maker showcases why sound is a big part of his life and the whole idea of his journey ending in New York City to get a recording of his brother Alex (Gordon Winarick), who died saving him from a fire when he was younger, adds some more personal meaning that makes you connect with Marcus on a deeper level. Even just the simple idea of him recording sounds is unique and makes you realize the importance and impact of sounds that seem menial. There’s even some strong emotion brought out in the ending that kind of won me over because of how genuine and heartfelt it was that proves how strong this concept is.
However, the execution of this great concept is just unremarkable, and the film becomes overstuffed with other narrative elements that pale in comparison. The Ultimate Playlist of Noise plays like every other YA coming of age film in how it attempts to be overly profound rather than grounded and real. The film overuses narration in the first act, Marcus talking about sound is way too philosophical and far less relatable than him making playlists for everyone, and the dialogue attempts to build up a romantic subplot between Marcus and Brewer’s Wendy that doesn’t really go anywhere. The dialogue writing is super weak with how it tries to add charm and personality to the characters, but ends up being really in your face and annoying. Even the final twist surrounding Alex dying and Marcus hearing his tape shifts the plot in an unwanted direction. It almost feels like it’s just baiting tears out of viewers and it’s just forced part of the already overstuffed story.
Frankly, what’s most disappointing is that the film doesn’t really bring us into Marcus’ view of the sounds he’s recording because the sound design is so weak. For a film about sound, you would think it would be a strong auditory experience. Maybe even be more of an ASMR experience given how big it is lately. However, the film just blasts through its sounds, so they never leave impact or make you feel like you’re a part of Marcus’ journey. There’re a couple cool sound experiences, like the film characterizing New York City through various sounds that establish its identity. It doesn’t do this enough though and it’s a big part to why the film lacks its own identity and can’t capitalize on its concept.
As for Johnson and Brewer, the film just doesn’t show them as the strong talents they really are. The two share some solid chemistry and add some charm of their own to create some tender moments, but it’s not enough to make them all that enjoyable. Frankly, they’re working against a script that pins them into corners and makes it really hard to get a grip on their characters. Marcus’ emotions and personality feel all over the place at times, Wendy can come off as unlikeable because of how closed off and untrustworthy she can seem, and the dialogue can sometimes turn you off to the characters because of how oddly crude and immature it can be at times. They certainly give it their best and the film definitely wouldn’t be the same without them, but the film ultimately doesn’t capitalize on their talents.
The Ultimate Playlist of Noise is ultimately a big disappointment that fails to set itself a part in the already overcrowded and growing YA coming of age genre. It’s far from a total train wreck since there’s some noticeable heart to it, but it’s truly unremarkable and unambitious.