After suffering a seizure at a concert, high school senior Marcus (Keean Johnson) learns that he has a brain tumor and while removing the tumor is relatively straightforward—for brain surgery, that is—once the procedure is done, Marcus will lose his hearing. Sure, this would be a shattering outcome for anyone, but it is especially devastating for Marcus, the playlist-making audiophile who escapes from the doldrums of daily life in sound.
Thus, with his impending deafness beckoning, Marcus decides that prior to his surgery he will venture to New York City and, along the way, he will record the, wait for it, ultimate playlist of noise; this playlist is set to contain such tracks as “Pinball Wizardry” and “Chinese Food Lunch Rush.”
The night that Marcus sneaks out to start his journey, he runs into a hitchhiker (literally, he hits her with his van), Wendy (Madeline Brewer), who also happens to be heading to New York City with stars in her eyes because Sylvie Scar, the fictional rockstar whom both Wendy and Marcus are obsessed with, has heard some of Wendy’s music and wants to record her. Oh, and Wendy also just so happens to be the young, angel-voiced opening act that Marcus saw, and immediately became enamored with, just prior to having his seizure.
These new road-buddies put the pedal to the metal and head out to the highway. Along the way, Marcus and Wendy become much closer and, dare I say, fall in love, until, of course, some newfound information and a secret or two threatens their still-blooming relationship…
If it sounds like you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you probably have. Blame John Green if you’d like, but the YA book/film formula has been established and adhered to for some time, now.
The on-screen chemistry between Keean Johnson and Madeline Brewer is apparent and authentic, making it easy to get behind their missions and root for their individual and shared successes. Wendy’s confident and headstrong way of living appears in stark contrast to Marcus’ weary and safe approach to getting by. The quirky and often humorous interactions between the two are enjoyable, but again, watching Wendy break Marcus out of his shell and, in return, Marcus proving to Wendy that she is worthy of love, is far from novel. Still, it is their quirky and memorable interactions that makes The Ultimate Playlist of Noise worth watching. And that’s about it.
While Marcus’ impending deafness justifies and adds a sense of urgency to his journey, it isn’t explored nearly enough to be worthwhile or relevant to the story. As an audiophile who has fallen for Wendy, why couldn’t he have just agreed to take her to New York in order to get closer to her? Shallow, sure, but the reasoning works, nonetheless. By the time the impact of Marcus’ deafness is felt, it’s far too late in the film and ultimately falls short of expectations. So short, in fact, that Marcus’ disability feels superficial and inauthentic; this makes me question the legitimacy of its inclusion.
Wendy with her flaws, secrets, and all, is a significantly more interesting and well-rounded character than Marcus who is defined, almost solely, by circumstances beyond his control. If Marcus was as well-defined as Wendy than the focus of the film could have been set on their relationship, nothing more, nothing less.
Still, superficiality and lack of depth aside, The Ultimate Playlist of Noise is fun and makes for a relatively enjoyable viewing experience that’s good for at least a laugh—and a tear—or two.
The Bottom Line
The Ultimate Playlist of Noise is charming and humorous but formulaic, nonetheless. I’m unsure of who this film is for, as there is a good deal of dark and dense material presented in a YA-friendly package that, ultimately, fails to say much of anything other than “Everything will work out, so long as you’re willing to compromise…” With a bit more depth of character and story, this tale would have been significantly better.