The Greatest

| April 14, 2010

Films that center upon the nature of the grieving process are often quite tricky to balance out. After all, who wants to spend a couple of hours feeling the pain and suffering that accompanies a sudden death? Such is the challenge of a film like The Greatest (written and directed by fledgling filmmaker Shana Feste). There is a delicate line that must be walked in order to represent the reality of grief, while still maintaining a bit of humor as well as a thin thread of the simple joys that life can sometimes offer in the most surprising ways amidst even the greatest of tragic circumstances. The Greatest succeeds in this tightrope walk. Despite the heavy and harrowing subject matter, Feste’s piece brings her audience to a place where we can recognize that grief may be long-lasting and forever challenging, but that life, indeed, must go on.
The Greatest takes off just before the scene of an automobile accident that takes the life of 18-yearold Bennett Brewer (the sparkly-eyed Aaron Johnson). Bennett is newly in love with classmate Rose (the serene and adept, Carey Mulligan) the young woman riding in his passenger seat, who escapes the scene with only a broken arm, and a broken heart. Rose is about to discover that she is not only pregnant with Bennett’s child, but also without a home, as her mother has just entered into a rehabilitation center. Knocking on the door of the grief-stricken Brewer household, the story truly begins. The tightly wound weaving of grief and Rose’s impending pregnancy is where this story truly lies. The Brewer’s unraveling family dynamics are a worthy match to a perhaps ill-timed pregnancy, which Rose chooses to accept by “handling it like a total Republican.”
Rose’s mission is to learn everything she can about Bennett, a boy she truly loved from a distance for 4 years before they finally had their first date, only weeks before his death. This feat is one that is not quite the top priority of Bennett’s emotionally distraught parents, Allen and Grace Brewer (Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon, respectively), as well as Bennett’s younger brother Ryan (excellently portrayed by Johnny Simmons). Each Brewer family member mourns the loss of Bennett in specifically individual ways – none of which seem to be helpful to themselves or to their ravaged family unit, much less their newfound roommate Rose. What is the appropriate way to grieve? Is there one? Psychology textbooks may suggest there is. In reality, the grieving process is far too personal and complicated for the advised step-by-step instructions toward a sound, and stable mind and heart.
Allen Brewer (Brosnan) begins to shed light on some of the specifics of his son’s personality and short life, upon Rose’s continuing interest, as she hopes to fill out her unborn child’s baby book and has little to add on her own about Bennett. Pierce Brosnan is really the standout performance, amongst an utterly capable cast. In an early scene, the screen centers on Allen’s face as he sits amongst his family in the car as they leave the funeral. Allen’s devastation is heartbreakingly real, and is just a sliver of what is to come of this performance. Rose continues the push to learn the most specific of details. For example, Grace eventually divulges that her son liked to eat Cheerios in pairs so they wouldn’t be alone in his tummy for the digestion process.
The Greatest, to its’ deficit, is saccharine in moments. However, a sharp and poignant script, buoyed by a menagerie of strong performances, help the film tremendously. Supporting roles peformed by the ever-impressive Michael Shannon and charming Zoe Kravitz help to anchor the load of the material. It says quite a bit, that a film about death and its’ aftermath leaves the audience with a feeling of optimism, and a reminder that life is always what remains and must be faced, despite the struggle that heartbreak and great loss will too often bring.

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