THE ULTIMATE PLAYLIST OF NOISE (2021) follows Marcus (Keean Johnson), an audio-obsessed high school senior, who learns he must undergo brain surgery that will render him deaf and decides to seize control of his fate by recording the Ultimate Playlist of Noise. This film marks the feature directorial debut for Bennett Lasseter and first feature for writer Mitchell Winkie.
There’s a growing list of films that follow kids with illnesses whether that be terminal or life-altering, it’s basically become its own sub-genre of coming-of-age flicks, but it can be a tricky one to strike the right tone. The tone that this film primarily strikes is one very familiar to the teen film arena, which is cheesy and while that may sound like a bad thing, it’s not because sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Yes, it does have that hugely typical narration, provided by Johnson to explicate as they go along which can be slightly overused at times but not to a point that changes the overall tone, rather it simply leans more heavily into that well-known formula.
The general idea of the film sends a nice message, Marcus wants to be pro-active and appreciate something he loves while he still has the chance and though it doesn’t break new ground entirely, it does unexpectedly have a few surprises in store. On the one hand it falls into a predictable pattern of teen films using good taste in music in place of more individual personality traits, he ticks the usual boxes of naïve and inexperienced, the character is very boilerplate. However, there is a larger story at hand, it isn’t simply a grand farewell tour to his hearing, it’s about hearing his late brother’s voice before he goes deaf and that brings a touching vein of family drama which pushes the film further. The pace and progress of its story could be structured better, the ratio of time spent on its beginning, middle and end, isn’t where it needs to be and unfortunately causes it to feel slow and miss the mark on making more of an emotional impact.
The weakest element of the story is certainly the romance, it feels entirely out of place, it needed to be more clearly defined as either an appropriate age difference to make it feel more comfortable or that Madeline Brewer’s Wendy is not genuinely interested in Marcus but allowing him to keep his fantasy out of sympathy. It lands awkwardly somewhere in the middle and so feels unnecessary other than fitting the mould of those that have come before.
Johnson’s performance is another one of those elements that slides right into the pre-packaged formula for teen film, it’s not bad but it’s the kind of character that would be described as vanilla, other than his love of music, there’s nothing to single him out. Brewer on the other hand brings that now very established manic energy to Wendy who’s a charming mess. It’s also great to have an excuse to bring out Brewer’s singing voice which has made brief appearances previously but she gets to show her skills more here. The two of them do have a solid chemistry but it’s not strong enough to really let the romance side land, it’s much more in the realm of friendship.
There aren’t really any surprises in store from behind the camera but the direction is good and made even better by some great editing work, both of which help that cheesy nature from permeating too far. One of the more creative choices is how they really take into account the themes of the story into the sound of the film, they let its importance feed into the style, especially in its latter moments, which again stops it from slipping into something overly saccharine.
The Ultimate Playlist of Noise is the perfect film for a rainy, lazy day, it’s sweet and charming. It can be a little awkward, slow or predictable at times but if you stick with it, it does pay off. Granted, it’s not going to knock your socks off but it has the best of intentions and is easy viewing for when you need a pick-me-up.