Eighteen year old high school senior Rose (Carey Mulligan, "An Education") has anticipated crossing paths with Bennett Brewer ("Kick-Ass's" Kick-Ass, Aaron Johnson) as they make their ways from piano and soccer practices since they first noticed each other in freshman year. On the last day of school, Bennett finally gets the courage to speak to her and the soul mates quickly fall into bed, but later that day, just as Bennett tells Rose he's loved her for years a car plows into them and he's killed. When Rose discovers she is pregnant, she turns to the Brewer family who are all dealing with grief in individual ways in writer/director Shana Feste's "The Greatest."
There is really only one reason to see "The Greatest" and that is for the luminous performance of Carey Mulligan, continuing to prove that she is indeed the real deal. Unfortunately, though, "The Greatest" is a poorly written piece that doesn't add up and leaves some characters stranded in cliched slots without any underpinning.
Bennett's mom, Grace Brewer (Susan Sarandon), drenches herself in grief and becomes obsessed with discovering what happened in the last seventeen minutes of his life. Oddly enough, she has the entire accident on some kind of surveillance video, although when we see the accident it appears to happen on a quiet rural road. Feste would have us believe that Ben had to stop in the middle of an intersection to declare his love for Rose, but the only way we know it is an intersection is because we later hear the other car's driver say he had the green light. Grace cannot talk to this gentleman until the end of the film because he is in a coma. But he got out of his car after the accident and apparently tried to help Ben, as he was the last to speak to him, so how, then, did he end up in a coma? When Jordan Walker (Michael Shannon, "Revolutionary Road") finally does tell Grace what happened, it has no logistical bearing on what we had witnessed happening. The entire film is riddled with distracting nonsense like this.
At its core, though, "The Greatest" is about how Rose comes into the severely dysfunctional Brewer family and helps heal it. Allen Brewer (Pierce Brosnan, "Remember Me") cannot confront his son's death which Grace interprets as not grieving. As their marriage already had an elephant in the room - Allen's prior affair with colleague Janis (Cara Seymour, "An Education") - Allen is struggling to reconnect with his wife. Bennett's younger brother Ryan (Johnny Simmons, "Hotel for Dogs") attends a grief counseling group but appears to be OK. Of course, his mother is testing him for drug abuse on a regular basis and he describes himself as a f&*K-up, but he never comes across as anything other than a really nice kid. It is to Simmons' credit that he manages to sketch out a character even when the script drags him from one extreme to another. The less said about his relationship with Ashley (Zoë Kravitz, "The Brave One"), a girl he meets in counseling, the better as Feste deep sixes it from out of left field and leaves it flapping in the wind.
Allen responds enthusiastically to Rose and his future grandchild's presence, so of course the two do things like hang out at Asbury Park (recently used in "The Wrestler"), go to the movies and silly dress up parties together. Rose gently tries to prod Allen into talking about Bennett, as this is the major divide between himself and Grace. Grace is resistant to Rose's charms as she sees the girl as the cause of Bennett's death, even though she is the only person she can talk to about her son. Rose is seeking to fill in the blanks because she knew Bennett so briefly - we see their short time in flashbacks, including the ridiculous notion that Rose would dye Bennett's hair blue (which doesn't show up well on film as the actor has dark hair).
There is some third act drama when Rose overhears Grace saying something hateful and leaves the Brewer household. Rose apparently has a mother who is some kind of wacko drug addict, so she cannot return to her but of course that leaves us wondering how the eighteen year old lived while she was attending school. And of course, be assured that the family finds her exactly when she goes into labor.
Sarandon does what she can with this material, but even though we should be sympathizing with her loss she comes off like a shrew through most of the film. Brosnan, whose Irish lilt slips out occasionally, spends most of the film with his lips pursed. His big moment, when he finally breaks down, is vaguely embarrassing. The older pros are upstaged by their younger peers, although Johnson has the least to work with as the younger generation and comes across as saintly and puppyish. Mulligan adds so much with such problematic material she astonishes.
The film was shot by experienced pro John Bailey ("American Gigolo," "The Big Chill") but the actors aren't captured very imaginatively, usually centered in the frame. The film is also awkwardly constructed, with some flashback scenes edited in so randomly one is left wondering what point was trying to be made.
"The Greatest" is a shaky directorial debut with a weak, soapy script and a cast that is far too good for it.
Robin did not see this film.
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