Basically: Sound of Metal meets Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
Hulu is adding to its YA movie roster and yet this story might not be a message to send to young adults. The Ultimate Playlist of Noise follows Marcus (Keean Johnson), a teenage boy who is obsessed with music. He’s the guy with the hottest playlists for any occasion. He’s particularly in love with the songs his older brother Alex used to listen to, before he tragically passed away after saving Marcus from a house fire.
Marcus lives his life everyday for Alex, constantly listening to music, making playlists, and going to shows just like his brother would have done. One night at a local venue, he sees Wendy (Madeline Brewer) and falls in insta-love. She’s the opening act with a voice to swoon over and a dangerously charming attitude. But then (even more) tragedy strikes: Halfway through the show, Marcus falls to the floor and suffers a seizure. Doctors inform him he has a brain tumor and must have surgery to save his life…but the procedure will cause him to lose his hearing.
So Marcus decides, before his surgery, to embark on a road trip to record every sound he wants to hear one last time for his Ultimate Playlist of Noise. We’re talking cow moos, roller rink swishes, soda cans opening—a glorious cacophony. Wendy comes along for the ride but she’s on a journey of her own, dealing with some pretty heavy stuff too.
Now, the playlist and road trip are a classic set of YA tropes that would typically be highly enjoyable. However, we can’t help but take issue with the fact that for the majority of the film Marcus acts like going deaf will be the same as “dying.” Losing his hearing is a difficult and life-changing adjustment and he has every right to grieve and be upset, absolutely, but is it the end of his life? No. Marcus’ journey towards acceptance is a long one and we wish the film focused more on that and his adjustment to becoming deaf. Instead, Marcus spends most of this time acting like he’d be better off dead and that this road trip is the last moment he will ever feel alive. Which is a dangerously ableist message to send. Coming to terms with the pain of losing one’s hearing rather than demonizing disability is a thin line to walk and this movie stumbles often.
There are also some issues of mental health that stray between being true to its depiction and dramatizing it. For the most part it does work—particularly due to Rya Kihlstedt’s performance as Marcus’ mother—but it seems like, along with the main storyline, there is a little too much packed into one movie for this issue to be properly addressed and portrayed. At times it felt like two separate movies trying to come together.
With that said, The Ultimate Playlist of Noise does have some fun YA moments with a sense of adventure and heart that will make you smile. And the final scenes will bring on the tears of sadness but also love. We only wish there was more of that feeling throughout because those closing moments of acceptance seem a little late after a movie of poorly delivered messages.
In the End: What could have been a really cool YA addition to Hulu’s roster stumbles in its delivery—its conversations surrounding disability and mental health should be explored far beyond what’s given on screen.