The Ultimate Playlist of Noise

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
The Ultimate Playlist of Noise Movie Poster Image
Mature themes, drinking, language in teen tearjerker.
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 99 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Life is worth living, even despite hardships and setbacks. It's important to love people for who they are, not who we want them to be. People with mental illness sometimes act in ways they can't control. Teenagers often behave selfishly, and parents forgive them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marcus's parents don't make all the right choices, but they act out of love. Wendy is comfortable breaking the law. She's also a supportive and intuitive friend, as are Marcus's other female friends from school. Marcus runs away from home with the family car and doesn't return his mother's worried calls or texts. He screams at his mother and blames her for a lot. His brother suffered a mental illness that caused him to make destructive decisions, but his family loved him for who he was.


Flashbacks show a young boy being rescued from a house fire, which left him with a terrible scar and which his brother didn't survive. Marcus has seizures that send him falling to the floor decapacitated. Doctors find a brain tumor behind his ear. There's repeated talk of suicide, including someone who died by suicide and others who say they wish to. Wendy's ex-boyfriend attacks Marcus's car so Marcus drives off, dragging the man along until he eventually falls in the street. Marcus falls, cuts his back, and bleeds.


Two teachers kiss and teens joke about their sex life. Two teens also share a kiss. Sexual talk includes mentions of condoms, dildos, being kinky, getting laid, giving a girl an orgasm, being a virgin, and having wet dreams. Marcus unwittingly buys a small penis sculpture at an auction. Teen boys appear topless with towels around their waists in a locker room. Wendy strips down to her underwear and bra and Marcus to his underwear and a t-shirt to jump into a pool.


Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "ass," "lick my ass," "badass," "bitchy," "hell," "damn," "goddamn," "God," "Jesus Christ," "wet dreams," "orgasm," "condom," "dildo," and "virgin." The middle finger.


Musicians and albums, Fender, Ampex, Nesquik, Bluetooth, Times Square, Lego.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Marcus's two best friends drink from a flask and say they're going to take shots in a bathroom. They continually offer Marcus alcohol even though he doesn't drink. When he eventually does try alcohol with Wendy, he gets drunk and vomits on himself and suffers his first hangover. Later he gets an older man to buy him liquor at a store. A high school student jokes about acid trips. Marcus takes a lot of medication for his seizures. Wendy asks if they're "happy pills."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Ultimate Playlist of Noise has some positive messages but also some heavy themes and scenes as well as questionable behavior from the main characters. Teenagers drink, discuss drugs and sex, break into homes and closed businesses, nearly run over a man, yell at their parents, cause disarray and damage at a roller rink, and ignore worried messages from loved ones. There's talk of suicide, but the message of the film is that life is beautiful and worth living even despite hardships and setbacks. One character learns that his deceased sibling suffered a mental illness that made him behave in destructive ways, but his family chooses to remember only his better moments. Scenes with heavy emotion involve the main character's seizures, tumor diagnosis, pending hearing loss, and surgery. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "ass," "lick my ass," "badass," "bitchy," "hell," "damn," "goddamn," "God," "Jesus Christ," "wet dreams," "orgasm," "condom," "dildo," and "virgin."

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What's the story?

Average suburban teenager Marcus (Keean Johnson), known at school for his mastery of the ultimate playlist for any occasion, gets a drastic diagnosis in THE ULTIMATE PLAYLIST OF NOISE. A brain tumor requiring surgery is going to leave him deaf. He's defeated until he comes up with a plan to spend his final weeks before surgery traveling across the country to record a playlist of noises for posterity. He says he'll enjoy watching other people's reactions to the collection of favorite noises once he can no longer hear. When his mother prohibits the trip, Marcus runs away. He doesn't get far before he nearly runs over a woman he'd recently seen singing at a club. She joins him on his trip to New York, and the two forge a special bond before a medical incident sends Marcus back to the hospital and one step closer to surgery.

Is it any good?

This teen tearjerker will certainly appeal to the intended audience. But even these teens might wonder why Marcus's parents don't get a second opinion on his debilitating diagnosis, why a tumor on one side of the brain causes both ears to stop functioning, how Wendy manages to edit a cassette tape, why Marcus's brother was so much older than him, or how the family learns sign language so quickly. These plot points can all, of course, have logical explanations, but The Ultimate Playlist of Noise doesn't offer them, risking skepticism from viewers instead of the required deep emotional investment in Marcus's journey. This film also has a handful of awkward scenes meant to elicit laughs but which evoke more cringes, like Marcus vomiting on himself, nearly running over a man, joking about his low GPA, eating a moldy hot dog (then throwing it up) after losing a bet, or Wendy casually damaging private property for her own enjoyment.

There are moments of true emotion, like the heartbreaking scene where Marcus is wheeled into surgery and breaks down crying. Johnson credibly plays the teen as vulnerable and innocent yet wizened by experience and prematurely angry with the world. There's also a memorable montage when he and Wendy first arrive to New York where Marcus plays Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" (recalling Woody Allen's classic Manhattan opening) and the music harmonizes with the sounds of the city streets -- coins clanging in a jar, taxis honking, people shouting, and metro passes swishing. It's meant to be a poignant reminder of the noise Marcus is going to miss and, unlike some other aspects of the film, it works.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Ultimate Playlist of Noise uses sound to illustrate what Marcus is about to lose. What are your favorite sounds?

  • The teens in the film break rules and laws but never get in trouble. Does this feel true to life? Is it healthy behavior? What would be the consequences of these decisions in real life?

  • Marcus yells at his mother in a pivotal scene at the hospital. Was he justified? Why or why not?

  • What did you think of the items on Marcus's ultimate playlist?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age tales

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