Written by: Robin C. Farrell | June 22nd, 2022
Press Play (Greg Björkman, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
The oft-revisited time-rewinding narrative can be difficult to pull off. Press Play manages to do so by leaning into expectations and relishing the experience. Laura (Clara Rugaard, I Am Mother), a painter living in an exquisite beach town, reluctantly allows her best friend, Chloe (Lyrica Okano, Story Game), to arrange a set-up with her brother, Harrison (Lewis Pullman, Top Gun: Maverick), a would-be medical student working at a local record store. Laura and Harrison fall almost instantly for one another, bonding through music, and they create a mixtape over the course of their courtship. On an actual tape, no less. The songs serve as milestones and make up the soundscape of the film.
Tragedy strikes abruptly, however, when Harrison is killed. Four years later, Cooper (Danny Glover, American Dreamer), friend and owner of the aforementioned record store, returns the abandoned mixtape to Laura. Upon pressing play, she is thrown back in time by some otherworldly force and reunited with a still-alive Harrison; each song transports her back to the moment they first experienced it together. Laura tries to “fix” the future, repeatedly altering time in big and small ways.
The lead-up to the impending time-travel twist doesn’t drag, when it very easily could have. Instead, the first section of the film establishes Laura and Harrison’s connection, their surrounding circumstances, and relationships to others, like Chloe and Cooper. The film provides enough seriousness to realize the stakes while maintaining a more positive outlook, yet it might have benefitted from digging just a teensy bit deeper. The specifics are a little fuzzy here, which may disappoint viewers who enjoy the science-fictiony rules and particulars of time travel. A few conversations broach the methodology and Laura does attempt to wrangle control of what’s happening but the focus shifts quickly away from that.
However, to the credit of Greg Björkman, in his directorial debut, he maintains focus and balances the grounded with the miraculous. Limitations remain intact, which is especially impressive when it comes to time travel. Much of the film relies on the chemistry between its two leads; and seems to have been deliberately written that way. Once the extraordinary events kick in, a few tropes crop up here and there along with some perfunctory plot beats but overall, it’s a compelling, enjoyable story, even with its tragic predicament.
What might have been a grim exploration of grief, instead delves into a more positive take on the theme of letting go, becoming a broader, less harrowing examination of push-and-pull control vs. acceptance. Press Play delivers on its promise. This is not a melancholy meditation on life and loss but a romantic, sincere jolt of hope, of which we all could use a little right now.