1980’s “Ordinary People” is the shining star of the “grief film” genre, but 2002’s underrated “Moonlight Mile” also holds its own. Like “The Greatest,” both explored the mourning process resulting from a young person’s tragic end. Unfortunately, writer/director Shana Feste’s effort is aspirational, but substitutes hoke for genuine emotional impact.
The Brewers led a fairly charmed existence, until golden boy eldest Bennett (Aaron Johnson) is hit by a car while with Rose (Carey Mulligan). When Rose shows up homeless and pregnant three months later, the Brewers are forced to confront their pasts and begin the slow road to recovery.
“The Greatest” is lazy filmmaking at its, well, greatest. Cliches run rampant, from the drug-addicted younger son to the philandering father in denial to the obsessively sad mother. We’re supposed to believe Bennett was one hundred percent wonderful – though it’s hard to buy when he does two stupid things in the film’s first five minutes. And Rose never brings up either mistake, even when the rest of the family openly blames her for Bennett’s death.
If such an Oscar existed, “The Greatest” would win Best Waste of a Talented Cast. Pierce Brosnan is reduced to overacting, and Susan Sarandon plays the exact same role she had in “Moonlight Mile.” Mulligan has the chops to bring real depth to an archetype (“An Education,” anyone?), but is written as the Inexplicably Wise Pregnant Girl. Johnson (soon to be seen as “Kick-Ass”) is given little to do but be adorably sheepish, and Simmons’ few natural moments are underwritten and inadequate.
What made “Ordinary People” and “Moonlight Mile” so strong was their concentration on grief through the eyes of young survivors. The few affecting moments of “The Greatest” involved Simmons, Johnson and Mulligan: flashbacks of the latter two shyly courting one another are lovely. Perhaps if these three characters had been given more screen time, this film would have lived up to its potential. Then again, since an actor is only as good as his or her script, perhaps not.