Hulu’s first original film of 2021 aims at changing your perspective on life and what’s beautiful in it. The Ultimate Playlist of Noise is a drama with some romantic comedy ingredients sprinkled in that has themes similar to A Walk to Remember and Clouds, but with different losses at stake. It’s still sad and it will still make you cry, so viewer beware if that’s not what you need right now.
Marcus (Keean Johnson, Alita: Battle Angel) lives life with two sets of headphones on, one with ambient sounds and the other with music. When he finds out that he has a brain tumor and the surgery will take away his hearing, he sets out on a solo quest to cram “A life’s worth of hearing into one month,” but ends up with an unintentional companion in Wendy (Madeline Brewer, The Handmaid’s Tale), an aspiring musician trying to get to New York City. Together, they travel around recording sounds and end up finding inspiration within each other.
Directed by Bennett Lasseter, son of Toy Story director John Lasseter, The Ultimate Playlist of Noise uses sound design in a really interesting way. What the film achieves with sound is almost akin to the visual dichotomy of Dorothy Gale stepping from Kansas into Munchkinland for the first time, switching from sepia tone to Technicolor. It’s one of the most brilliant aspects of the film and one I encourage viewers to pay attention to.
Keean Johnson gives a strong and believable performance as Marcus and while the plot occasionally slows to a snail’s pace, his interest in experiencing the sounds of the world during his “Going away party” for his ears keeps things fresh. His mother, played by Rya Kihlstedt (A Teacher), also gives an incredible performance and delivers a real tearjerker moment.
Faced with losing his hearing, the sense most important to him, Marcus uses his remaining month with his auditory processing abilities to make the most of it. The Disney+ original film Clouds, based on a true story, has a similar plot with Zach using his last days before he loses his battle to cancer to make music with his best friend. And from my teenage years, the Nicholas Sparks novel and Mandy Moore film A Walk to Remember was another bucket list-style film. While the plot of The Ultimate Playlist of Noise is very much a retread, the execution is a little different and with the lead character facing hearing loss instead of death, it sets itself apart by also being a coming of age story.
With fine performances from all actors and some beautiful cinematography and sound mixing, The Ultimate Playlist of Noise has a lot of good reasons to watch it and a comforting overall message. But with a plot that draws instant comparisons to similar stories that are more memorable, it’s destined to be quickly forgotten.
I give The Ultimate Playlist of Noise 3 out of 5 Unicorn Headphones.