Making the best case yet for cassette tapes being a superior format, Press Play provides an extra twist on the rom-com formula we all know and love. I was not quite sure what to expect going into this film beyond one’s standard romance, but I was quickly proven wrong. Lewis Pullman (Bad Times at the El Royale, Top Gun: Maverick) and Clara Rugaard (Teen Spirit, Still Star-Crossed) have excellent chemistry for starters, and the script from James Bachelor and Greg Bjorkman embraces the sci-fi timey-wimey hijinks of its unexpected premise.
Laura (Rugaard), an aspiring artist, reluctantly agrees to meet the stepbrother of her best friend, Chloe (Lyrica Okano, Marvel’s Runaways), despite having reservations about meeting some new guy. Harrison (Pullman) works at a nostalgic record store called “Lost and Found,” and the second he meets Laura, there is a spark between them. One surfing date later, Laura and Harrison are practically a serious couple. Laura soon discovers she has gotten an exciting mentorship opportunity, and she finds out Harrison is going back to med school—can they make a long distance relationship work? Laura does not want to be the thing holding him back from doing what he loves, but Harrison is so committed to Laura that he doesn’t seem to care about med school either way. Less than twenty minutes into the film, and the couple is already saying “I love you.”
As the film’s grizzled voice of reason, Danny Glover’s Cooper says “you never have enough time with the ones you love.” Truer words have perhaps never been spoken, hitting with a pang of relatability for those who have lost a loved one. Harrison tragically dies just as his relationship with Laura is getting into the juicy seriousness of true love. Laura is left reeling and purposeless, painting over a mural the two made together in a pang of sadness. From here, Press Play flashes forward a whopping four years, just as Chloe is getting married. Laura is devoted to surfing, and has one-night stands with random nameless men. Her life seems to have lost its meaning in a way. When she comes upon a cassette mixtape that Harrison filled with tunes representative of their time together, Press Play is suddenly injected with a dash of sci-fi magical realism.
Every time Laura presses play (title drop!) on the tape, she is transported to that very same moment when she first heard the song together with Harrison. At first, Laura can barely believe what is happening. Her time with Harrison lasts only as long as the song, and once it has finished, she is transported right back to the world of the present. However, soon enough, Laura concocts a plan to get Harrison back and save him from an untimely death. Choices she makes and things she shares with Harrison have a ripple effect into a new present timeline, changing not just Harrison, but aspects of Laura’s life and those around her. Press Play becomes a sort of rom-com riff on The Butterfly Effect, and I was completely invested in Laura and Harrison’s relationship.
Ultimately, Press Play is a movie about second chances, enjoying the time you have with the ones you love, and living life to its fullest. While it conveys a message I have seen an obscene amount of times recently, Press Play pulls it off so convincingly that it remains as charming and vital as ever. A cute and hopeful ending comes in an unexpected way, which at least breaks the mold in that regard. It would have been so easy to simply make this into a melodramatic tearjerker; I am so thrilled that the filmmakers had the restraint and good sense to not allow this to happen. Instead, the focus on positivity and love is likely to win over even the most stone-hearted.
Press Play rewinds the tape for one’s viewing pleasure, in theaters, On Demand, and Digital on Friday, June 24th.
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