Oh, joy! We’ve hit the time in pop culture wherein kids who weren’t around or very young during the 1990s are gonna start getting movies about what a time it was. Lo, those 20-ish-plus years ago were indeed a time, but when it comes to the new Netflix movie Mixtape from director Valerie Weiss (Prodigal Son), any legitimate nostalgia takes a backseat to cutesy storytelling and the type of bubblegum romanticism that reduces entire sub-cultures into one-dimensional caricatures drawn by people who maybe don’t quite get what they’re attempting to lovingly mock.
In Mixtape, young Beverly (Gemma Brooke Allen) lives with her grandmother (Modern Family alum Julie Bowen, who presumably ran over a witch with her car and was cursed to take such a meaningless role) in the year of our lord 1999. Bev’s folks—punk fans, we’re told through photographic evidence—died in a car crash when she was a toddler, and since Grandma ain’t spilling the details about what kind of people they were, Bev’s forced to feel connected to her ghost parents through a mixtape she discovers in the basement.
Tragically, that mixtape is unspooled by a shoddy Walkman during the very first song (a banger from UK post-punkers Girls At Our Best), but rather than ask someone how to fix that or simply grabbing a pencil to work it out her damn self, Bev IDs the tape as dead and heads to her local record store where owner Anti (Nick Thune) starts selling her songs from the tape one at a time. The setup, for what it’s worth, is actually kind of adorable and interesting. The execution, however, feels too precious for any adults who’d feel tape nostalgia and too niche for any kids who might trip out over the thought of cassettes and vinyl.
Allen’s turn as the precocious Beverly feels fine and all, but it seems that every obstacle she faces is solved immediately. Don’t really know how to do the internet or Napster, Bev? Not to worry—a girl your age just moved in next door and is a computer whiz! Can’t find that rare track from The Quick? No big, Bev—you’ll notice that seemingly mean girl at your school is wearing their shirt on the very same day the problem came to light! Found a photo of your mom with some local singer? Good news—his band’s playing in a couple days, and the record store owner is totally down to drive you and your middle schooler buds despite how inherently fucking weird that is! Huzzah!
The absurdity only serves to highlight newbie-caliber performances from Bev’s burgeoning buddies Ellen (Audrey Hsieh) and Nicky (Olga Petsa)—and that’s not even getting into Bowen’s wish-I-weren’t-here tackling of the grandma character. Thune would be OK if it weren’t for a series of jokes about how people who like punk and rock and stuff loathe the pop music set. It’s lazy and tired and a Gen-X lite kind of joke that feels written by people who never felt accepted at the record stores of their youths, though likely because of their own hang-ups.
The soundtrack does slap, though, and probably ate up most of the budget. Perhaps that’s why everything else feels like a lesser Degrassi movie (with all due respect to the timeless Canadian classic) and why it’s so hard to figure out to whom this movie is supposed to appeal.
+Killer songs; Thune
-Doesn’t understand its inspirations
Directed by Weiss
With Allen, Bowen, Hsieh, Petsa and Thune
Netflix, TV-PG, 93 min.