Time Travel Thursday: Press Play (2022)
Time Travel Tropes7
Set-up / pay-off5
Matthew Turner | On 28, Jul 2022
Director: Greg Björkman
Cast: Clara Rugaard, Lewis Pullman, Lyrica Okano, Christina Chang, Matt Walsh, Danny Glover
In the mood for some time travel titilation? Transport yourself no further than Time Travel Thursday, our column devoted to time travel movies. It’s on Thursday.
The feature debut from director Greg Björkman, Press Play stars Danish actress Clara Rugaard (who looks like she could be Alicia Vikander’s younger sister) as Laura Nilsson, an aspiring artist who begins a relationship with med-school-bound Harrison (Lewis Pullman), the step-brother of her best friend, Chloe (a scene-stealing Lyrica Okano from Runaways). Since Harrison works in a retro-focused record store run by Cooper (Danny Glover), they quickly bond over music, making a mixtape together of all the songs from key moments in their romance.
However, that relationship is brought to a brutal end when Harrison is hit by a car and dies. Four years later, Cooper gives Laura the mixtape and, when she plays it on a Walkman, she’s transported back to the moment when she and Cooper first heard each song. Realising she has a chance to save his life, she attempts to warn him of his future, but there are unforeseen consequences.
On the surface, Press Play has a great central idea, keying into the fact that music has the ability to transport us, emotionally, to particular moments in our lives. As Glover’s character says, “I heard people say that music transcends space and time, but I always thought it was just a metaphor.”
The film is packed with tried-and-tested time travel tropes, from Laura trying to convince Harrison that she’s from the future (“Like hoverboard future or buried Statue of Liberty on the beach future?”) to small changes in the past having terrible consequences in the future. It also has a measure of originality in its time machine, as well as a nice nod to nostalgia, since a Walkman is already a relic of the past (to the point where it’s a little implausible that the characters even have them in the first place).
The story itself contains several familiar elements, from time finding a way to course-correct (Harrison still dies in each timeline, even if he heeds her warnings) to the emotional dynamics of the film’s climax. However, the script’s adherence to largely predictable cliché is compensated by the strong chemistry between the two leads – their romance is nicely handled before the tragedy kicks in, so you’re rooting for Laura to succeed throughout.
The main problem is that the film is in too much of a hurry and key story elements are sacrificed in the process. The best time travel movies have plots that click satisfyingly into place, but that never really happens here, despite multiple opportunities – there are plenty of set-ups (for example, Laura discovering that she caused a devastating fire in the record store), but hardly any pay-offs (the way that’s resolved feels almost like an afterthought).
On a similar note, the film ends up tying itself in knots by becoming needlessly complicated, and then refusing to address the issues it has raised as a result – for example, the mixtape changes at one point because Laura has essentially created a different Laura in the past, who now has different memories with Harrison, and hence different songs on the mixtape, an idea that goes precisely nowhere.
There’s also a problem with plausibility in the most basic elements – Laura and Chloe are best friends, yet the plot hinges on Chloe having never met her step-brother before, despite the fact that he works at the coolest record store in town.
Nonetheless, Press Play has some nice ideas and remains enjoyable thanks to likeable performances and a sweet central relationship. It also makes a great time travel teen romance double-bill with the much more satisfying The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, also included with Amazon Prime.