Movie Review: The Greatest (2010)

Pierce Brosnan and Carey Mulligan in The Greatest
Photo: Paladin

Shana Feste’s The Greatest is a plodding melodrama driven by grief that will gain positive reactions from those that don’t require an entire film to be of high quality and are instead satisfied with a few excellent scenes toward the end that trick them into forgetting the tedium that came earlier. Admittedly, The Greatest has two excellent scenes, but for the most part it is a weepy grief-stricken bore that proves Susan Sarandon is trying too hard and Pierce Brosnan is best left to play the cool cat big wig because overly emotional performances are not his forte.

The film centers on Allen and Grace Brewer (Brosnan and Sarandon) whom have just lost their college-aged son Bennett (Aaron Johnson from the upcoming Kick-Ass) in a rather ridiculous car crash. However, Bennett has a girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) his parents didn’t know about and when she comes knocking on their door, pregnant and with nowhere else to go Allen welcomes her into their family. Grace, in the meantime, is still trying to cope with the death of her son, a husband trying to keep it together and now the arrival of an unwanted house guest she believes should have died in the place of her boy. Sounds pleasant eh?

What we’re really talking about here is a Lifetime movie with A-list actors playing the leads and the fact the movie is finally seeing a major release following Mulligan’s Oscar nomination for An Education is no coincidence as it too debuted at Sundance in 2009, but didn’t fare as well over the months following. We’ve seen films like this, and for the most part they all fall into that overly melodramatic, weepy-to-a-fault category and this one is no different, though we do expect the talent involved to lift it above its expected genre trappings.

Any praise for Mulligan would be fall-off from her performance in An Education as she has very little to do here as the majority of the heavier lifting from the younger cast members belongs to Johnny Simmons playing Bennett’s younger brother Ryan. Ryan is caught up in drugs and struggling to deal with the fact he was so high at his brother’s funeral he wasn’t even able to say good-bye. Simmons’s character works, and he impressed me during an aggressive confrontation he has with Zoe Kravitz in a side story that was a bit unnecessary, but that seemed to be the goal of this ADD script that felt like depression in overdrive.

Challenging the grief on display in The Greatest would be inappropriate, but the relentless pummeling of an audience that would otherwise be interested in the scenario playing out on screen is open for criticism. Written and directed by Feste in her directorial debut and first feature length script, The Greatest never gets out of its own way, primarily bogged down by Sarandon whose character may be exhibiting the traits of someone suffering from the loss of a child perfectly, though that’s not where I find fault. It’s the abundance of grief shown on screen that drags the film under. It’s a matter of saying, “I get it, let’s move on with the story.”

The emotional breakdowns the film’s characters must suffer are genre necessities and they make their way into the narrative just as you would expect. As Brosnan carried on in his crying scene I had to do my best to keep from laughing too hard. I didn’t believe his tearless whimpers for a second, and even worse, it comes just after Sarandon and Michael Shannon share the absolute best scene in the entire film. It’s a scene that almost makes the movie worth watching alone. The second scene I mentioned in my opening comes just before the end credits so it will be up to you if you want to test your stamina with a film that isn’t awful, but just doesn’t come with anything new or unexpected.