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Emily Tsiao

Movie Review

“Music does a lot of things for different people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It’s uplifting. It is encouraging. It’s strengthening.”

Aretha Franklin

So said Aretha Franklin—the Queen of Soul herself. But for Harriet, Franklin’s words come with a deeper, more literal meaning.

Two years ago, she lost her boyfriend, Max, in a car accident. She herself sustained a traumatic head injury. And now, every time she hears one of her and Max’s songs, she’s transported back to the moment she first heard that song with him.

Only, it hasn’t been uplifting, encouraging or strengthening for Harriet. In fact, it’s pretty much been the opposite.

When Harriet is triggered by a song, she doesn’t just remember Max. No, she feels as though she’s literally transported back in time to those moments. She relives them word for word, detail for detail, touch for touch … until the song ends and she finds herself passed out on the floor or the street or in the hospital.

Harriet has taken precautions to protect herself from these aural triggers. Her apartment is soundproofed. She wears noise-cancelling headphones everywhere she goes. She even works in a library.

But she’s struggling to move on.

Harriet has been purposely triggering herself each night, convinced that if she can find the right song, she can change what happened to Max—that she can somehow save him by transporting herself back in time.

This obsession has pushed Harriet’s friends away. It ended her career as a music producer. And it’s prevented her from moving on in any sort of healthy or reasonable manner.

Then Harriet meets David. He’s suffered losses of his own. He understands her desperation, because he would give anything to see his parents one last time.

But now Harriet is torn. David makes her happy—happier than she’s been since Max passed away. But being with him feels like cheating on Max.

Should she finally process her grief and move on with her life? Or should she remain loyal to Max in the hopes of somehow saving him from his tragic fate?

Note: The following sections contains spoilers.

Positive Elements

Harriet attends a grief therapy group where the counselor is kind and encouraging. She tries to help Harriet process her loss without pressuring her too much.

Morris, Harriet’s only remaining friend, is loyal and supportive. He offers some tough love, but he never abandons her. And he even helps her enjoy some social events by providing her with “safe” music that they both know won’t trigger her.

Edie, David’s sister, is also supportive. She tries to help her brother move on from their parents’ deaths even as she’s processing her own grief. And eventually, he takes some of her advice, realizing he’s been clinging to the past instead of focusing on the present.

We learn that David’s mom got sick and passed away. His dad died from a broken heart a few months later. And while this is sad, it’s also incredibly sweet how much they loved each other.

Spiritual Elements

At first, Harriet’s time traveling seems to be a mental side-effect of her head injury. And despite her insistence that she is literally traveling back in time, it plays out as such, with many people trying to help her process her grief.

However, as it turns out, Harriet is correct. She’s not just imagining those moments with Max, she’s actually reliving them. And she eventually figures out a way to prove this to David by sending him a note from the past, eventually changing the future with her actions.

A woman who lost her husband says she sometimes picks a fight with his “ghost” when she misses him.

Sexual Content

Many of Harriet’s memories of Max include the couple kissing, cuddling and otherwise acting very couple-y. Before Max passed away, they lived together. Several of Harriet’s memories show her in underwear and tank tops. And one memory shows the pair swimming at a secluded beach in their underwear.

Harriet and David kiss several times as well. And they eventually have sex (close-up shots and silhouettes hide any nudity). During one makeout session, Harriet climbs into David’s lap before she’s accidentally triggered by a song. The memory she’s transported to is one of her and Max about to get intimate (they’re kissing in bed and he’s not wearing a shirt). She ends the memory, but understandably freaks out, confused by all that just occurred.

Morris, Harriet’s friend, is a member of the LGBT community. His sexual orientation and gender identity are never discussed, but he dresses effeminately, often wearing makeup and once wearing a dress. A man and woman also run out of his house, fixing their clothes after what was obviously a sexual encounter with him. It’s noted that Morris has never had a relationship that lasted longer than one night.

Elsewhere, Harriet and David attend a party that Morris is DJing, featuring dozens of LGBT characters including several drag queens. Morris is seen dating another guy, who also dresses quite effeminately, near the film’s end.

Harriet is seen from the shoulders up through a rippled shower door. We see some women in revealing outfits.

Violent Content

We see a brief glimpse of the car crash that killed Max. Harriet gets into a fender bender when she’s distracted. She and the other driver are OK, but then Harriet hears a song that triggers a memory, causing her to pass out in the middle of the street. Harriet passes out elsewhere as well. In one incident, she tries to leave the room before it happens, but she’s too late, trips and hits her head hard, landing her in the hospital with a bandage over her wound.

Crude or Profane Language

A single use of the f-word and about 10 uses of the s-word. We also hear uses of “a–,” “d–n,” “d–k,” “h—” and “p-ss.”

God’s name is misused a dozen times and Christ’s name is misused once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Harriet drinks Max’s favorite brand of whiskey whenever she purposely triggers an episode—which is every night. In other scenes, we see characters drinking alcohol.

Harriet and Max meet at a music festival, and they and Morris share a joint of marijuana.

Other Negative Elements

It seems that Harriet’s condition is what prevents her from moving on after Max’s death. After all, if you never know when or where you might be pulled back into a memory of your dead boyfriend, it can be hard to live a normal life.

Unfortunately, as Harriet’s counselor points out, she’s making a conscious choice to hide out in her grief. She isn’t trying to move on, she’s trying to save Max, purposely triggering her time-traveling memories in an effort to change the past.

Morris tries to tell Harriet how her obsession has changed her for the worse. And he’s not wrong. The woman is passing out in a chair every night after drinking booze and triggering a memory. She doesn’t socialize for fear of passing out in public. And she gave up a promising career as a music producer to wallow in her grief.

Morris asks whether Max would want to be with the person Harriet has become if she could somehow bring him back. But rather than take the hint and focus on both living in the present and taking care of herself, Harriet decides that it’s better to have never loved at all than to have loved and lost.


The Greatest Hits was almost a really sweet movie. It almost said some really important things about grief and our capacity, as humans, to process it and continue living—even thrive.

It almost did a lot of things.

But it didn’t.

The minute this film revealed that Harriet is, in fact, actually time traveling to the past—that it’s not just how she processes Max’s loss after her head injury—it negated any positive messages it might have said about moving on from grief.

Harriet never moves on. Rather, she decides it’s better to wallow in the past than move on and recover.

I don’t fault her for wanting to save Max. That’s an admirable quality (if a bit obsessive in her unique case). But I do fault the filmmakers for failing to demonstrate how a person can healthily move on from a tragic loss and even find love again.

Adding to the film’s problematic time-travel component, we must add foul language, all manner of sexual content and Harriet’s borderline alcoholism (given that she drinks heavily every night to aid in her time-travel episodes), and The Greatest Hits isn’t one of the greatest hits at all.

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.