After debuting at Sundance 2009, this touching, rather old fashioned family drama is only now getting a theatrical release through new distributor Paladin. Toplining Pierce Brosnan (also an Executive Producer), Susan Sarandon and An Education Oscar Nominee Carey Mulligan, the dour story centers on a couple who lose their oldest son in a car accident, only to have his 18 year old pregnant girlfriend move in with them when she finds herself carrying their grandchild. A well-written film about grief and rebirth, The Greatest falls into the boxoffice-challenged category of adult mid-range drama and may find tough sledding in trying to drum up an audience for this simple tale of trying to cope with unspeakable family tragedy and its aftermath.
The film opens showing virginal Rose (Mulligan) getting deflowered by her 18 year old boyfriend, Bennett Brewster (Aaron Johnson). Next scene they are involved in a horrific car crash that kills Bennett but only slightly injures Rose. Cut to the grieving family including parents Allen (Brosnan), Grace (Sarandon) and younger son Ryan (Johnny Simmons) as they try to deal with the loss and get through their everyday lives. Suddenly into those lives comes Rose, who announces she is three months pregnant and moves in with the clan. While Ryan and Dad welcome her wholeheartedly Grace wants no part of her, unable to accept that her son ever loved this girl and suspecting she has an ulterior motive for hooking up with the family. Basically the film plays out the stages of grieving as Allen remains stoic and Ryan resorts to hanging out with a new girlfriend (Zoe Kravitz) or smoking weed. Grace takes it hardest, even to the point of having a breakdown when she passes Bennett’s favorite cereal in the supermarket. The ordeal causes a rift in the family resulting in further complications, not only between each family member but with Rose as well.
Writer/director Shawna Feste clearly knows her way around the subject matter and realistically portrays the fractured relationship of a husband and wife who suddenly must deal with the impossible loss of a child. Tense scenes between the pair seem all too true and real with the wonderful Sarandon, in particular, getting all the poignant nuance and bitter feelings of a wounded mother reeling from a senseless death. Brosnan is good, but his big emotional breakdown scene seems forced and overplayed a bit. Not so with Simmons who nails this kid and is terrific when his own tears finally get the better of him. Mulligan, who made this film around the same time as An Education, again shows a lilting and very lovely screen presence. She’s totally convincing as the enchantress Bennett would fall head over heels for.
Feste’s pacing and direction may be a little too bland for its own good, but she does gets strong performances and just the right touch of pathos without letting the material get too maudlin. Overall, The Greatest is a moving story of love, loss, hope and renewal.
Cast: Susan Sarandon, Pierce Brosnan, Carey Mulligan, Johnny Simmons, Aaron Johnson and Zoe Kravitz.
Director/Screenwriter: Shawna Feste
Producers: Lynette Howell and Beau St. Clair
Rating: R for language, some sexual content and drug use
Running time: 98 min.
Release date: April 2 NY/LA, April 9 Exp.