Last year, musician and writer Michelle Zauner (better known as Japanese Breakfast) listed her 10 favourite films of the past 10 years (2011 to 2020) on the Projectr blog. They included 'The Skin I Live In', 'Holy Motors', 'Phantom Thread', 'The Handmaiden' and 'Mad Max: Fury Road'. Would Greg Björkman's debut feature 'Press Play', which hinges on Zauner's tunes, be her cup of tea? Maybe, maybe not, but it will be a lot of other peoples' jam.
Unlucky in love Chloe (Lyrica Okano) introduces her artist friend Laura (Clara Rugaard, 'I Am Mother') to her medical student stepbrother, Harrison (Lewis Pullman, 'Lean on Pete', 'Battle of the Sexes'), who has a day job at a record store named Lost & Found. They immediately have a 'High Fidelity'-style connection and attend a Japanese Breakfast show together. Harrison, who is not a fan of streaming, gives Laura a retro cassette so they can create a mixtape cassette. Their relationship blossoms until Harrison is tragically hit and killed by a car. Laura leaves behind her mixtape at Lost & Found.
Four years later, Laura attends Chloe's wedding. Lost & Found’s owner Cooper (Danny Glover) gives Laura her mixtape back. After pressing play on her Walkman, inexplicable science fiction ensues as Laura’s consciousness is transported to her first date with Harrison at the Japanese Breakfast concert. So begins Laura’s quest to influence the past in order to save Harrison’s life and be reunited with him in the present. She is accompanied on her mission by an ace soundtrack that includes Dayglow, Amy Stroup, Father John Misty, Ashley Jane, and Slowdrive.
Rugaard is engaging as the dream pop-loving heroine, and it’s refreshing to see Pullman - usually cast as an oddball or dork in stuff like 'Bad Times at the El Royale' and 'Top Gun: Maverick' - as a hunky surfer/doctor/music buff/Japanese Breakfast anti-fan. Imagine Tom Holland with charisma. Both Rugaard and Pullman show hints of timeless charm - the scenes that simply let them hang out find a pleasant groove – which enlivens the material not unlike the way Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling almost sold the saccharine goofiness of 'The Notebook'.
'Press Play' is lightweight stuff, but it’s nice to see a film that smooshes together 'Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist' and 'The Time Traveler's Wife' without simply being a straight rip-off of Nicolas Sparks.
Look, 'Press Play' is lightweight stuff, but it’s nice to see a film that smooshes together 'Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist' and 'The Time Traveler's Wife' without simply being a straight rip-off of Nicolas Sparks. While the movie certainly does contain items from the Sparks checklist - handwritten notes, paeans to the romantic majesty of coastal Hawaii, death - it doesn’t milk all of those for maximum shamelessness, either. Detailing a grief-stricken young woman’s attempts to save her boyfriend’s life with a mixtape that can transport her back in time, it also has some ambition in its premise and structure.
Written by Björkman and James Bachelor from a story by Josh Boone ('The New Mutants'), the story of 'Press Play' should resonate particularly deeply with young music lovers (and possibly a few oldies). Music is a lot more powerful than we think. We just hear an old song and it just takes us somewhere else, bringing back some of those special moments from our lives that we have forgotten. And sure, music cannot cure, but perhaps it can help heal.
There’s a reason these kinds of movies are so popular, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to spend every Valentine’s Day watching cuties canoodle at a cool gig, fall head over heels during a surfing lesson, and weather the tyranny of distance. 'Press Play' is a slight but sweet offering that (at a brisk 85 minutes) doesn’t overstay its welcome.