REVIEW: The Greatest

96 Minutes // USA // Barbarian Films
dir. Shana Feste
Sunday, April 11th, 2010
starring: Carey Mulligan, Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon

If you’re looking for a comedy – and I mean an unintentional one – then writer/director Shana Feste’s feature length debut ironically entitled The Greatest is for you. Throughout the duration expect to find yourself wearing each of the expressions in the photo above. From “what is this” to “oh no” to “yikes”, this film has it all in terms of mishandled melodrama resulting in some of the best laughs you’ll have all year.

It begins with an anticlimactic — or rather, flat-out stupid — setup. Bennett Brewer (the up and coming Aaron Johnson) is with girlfriend Rose (Carey Mulligan) in his car. He wants to tell her something – after their date, why he didn’t tell her during the date isn’t clarified, but just go with it, OK? – so he parks his car in the middle of the road. Rose says “Do you want to move your car?” in an unctuous tone. He says no and proceeds to tell her that he loves her. But right after that, boom, car crash: Bennett dies, Rose is scratched up (and pregnant with Bennett’s child)… let the melodrama begin.

After the funeral, you’re given a two minute scene of the Brewer family sitting in the back of a luxury car post-funeral to endure; a scene where literally nothing happens apart from the father Allen (Pierce Brosnan) checking his watch a minute into the scene. Funny, I was too. And no, this isn’t a deep introspection into the duress a family is under after burying their child; it’s complete crap, nothingness drawn out into pretension. A lot of the film has equal philosophical value and yes, a lot of the film is as equally funny.

There’s so much wrong with this film that you could re-title this film How Not To Make A Film and let it speak for itself, but I’ll do my best to summarize the dramatic wasteland that is this film.

Over the course of the film, Rose is accepted into the Brewer family – now consisting of three members with teacher Allen, nurse (?) Grace (Susan Sarandon) and pot-smoking son Ryan (Johnny Simmons). Rose has nothing in her life. No family apart from a sister who is more concerned with the trivialities of life – who tries to procure an extraordinarily late term abortion for Rose in one of the more spontaneous moments of Feste’s script; no place to stay – though this isn’t divulged into enough which leaves many questions (ie. why does she even bother staying with the Brewers in the first place?) unanswered; and no real future – at least immediately because she’s pregnant and cannot pursue post-secondary education with a belly full of baby. So the Brewers take her in and she is treated differently by each member. Grace discourages her staying with them, Allen loves it and Ryan is fine with it; some real tension is abrewin’.

Or not.

There are many heavily dramatic scenes that are unwarranted and proceed without merit. One of the main problems the film has is with its handling of conflict. There are a handful of arguments that begin, climax and resolve within the span of a few minutes. This happens several times throughout the entirety. People yell at one and other, then you have a brief montage sporting poor musical choices which is soon followed by everyone living happily ever after. All of these misfires equate to one hilarious feature that could’ve been dramatically potent if the person who made it was smart.

Towards the end of the film, Pierce Brosnan is given a cue to cry: his character is finally coming to terms with the loss of his son and it’s supposed to be this big moment in the film where the second most viewed character grows as a person. In this scene, Brosnan doesn’t sound like a man crying or someone trying to force tears out of their ducts, but rather like a stalling engine in a car. This is merely one of many scenes that allow the viewer to perceive the feature as a machine and in each of these cases – be it the mummery that is the acting or not-so-funny attempts at hip humor (see the scene above where Rose and Allen attend a party where a person on acid interrupts their conversation… ha) – it proves that machine as a broken one. No wonder it does nothing and goes nowhere.

The only aspect of the film that escapes Feste’s malign direction is Carey Mulligan as the passive and oh so adorable Rose. Even in her youth she’s able to give veterans in Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon an education in evoking pain with subtlety and crying without feign.

Despite its terrible… everything, The Greatest is a film that is very enjoyable. Even though it’s a bad film, if you get together with a friend or two and laugh at the crap being spewed by Shana Feste you’ll find this film has merit in the comedic department, even if it doesn’t aspire to behold such virtues. I’m not one to say a film is so bad its good – there aren’t more than a few films that were so bad that I liked them (not even Edward Wood can make me feel this way) – but this is certainly one of them. Don’t take this seriously because it’s obvious no one making it did either.

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