'The Greatest' is transparent, predictable

If you take "Ordinary People," add "Juno," and subtract most of the laughs, you'll be conceptually close to "The Greatest."

Carey Mulligan stars as a pregnant teen who ingratiates herself with the teen father's wealthy family after he's killed in an auto accident.

The family, in the hands of writer-director Shana Feste, becomes a suspiciously tidy study in various methods of grieving. The head of the household (Pierce Brosnan) keeps his feelings at bay, while his wife (Susan Sarandon) puts her mourning actively on display. Their surviving son (Johnny Simmons) is a drug addict who keeps himself anesthetized.

The tension over these differing styles keeps members of the family apart - and in the middle of it all is Rose (Mulligan), who befriends each one individually and provides a means for the family to confront its own dysfunction and, ultimately, the tragedy itself.

This is a first-rate cast, and there's nothing wrong with the performances, but the movie is transparent, and you see everything coming - the characters acknowledging their flaws, facing the horrible facts, each edging toward the big, scripted moment when their rage, guilt and sorrow bursts forth as a soliloquy.

Also schematic is the dynamic between Rose and Sarandon's character, who wants to know every detail of the grisly accident, but absolutely nothing about the girl carrying her dead son's child.

This really doesn't make sense outside a screenwriting lab, but it gives Sarandon an excuse to be hostile and relentless - she talks to a comatose accident victim (Michael Shannon) so that she can pump him for details when he wakes up.

I wish I could say there was a moment in "The Greatest" that surprised me, but there wasn't. Even revelations that grow out of Simmons' rehab therapy have a predictable feel to them, especially for readers of Nick Hornby or Chuck Palahniuk.

Produced by Lynette Howell and Beau St. Clair, written and directed by Shana Feste, music by Christophe Beck, distributed by Palladin (II).


The Greatest

Directed by Shana Feste. With Pierce Brosnan, Carey Mulligan, Hannah Hodson, Miles Robbins, Aaron Johnson, Cheryl Cosenza, Lindsay Beamish, Johnny Simmons, Anthony Del Negro, Susan Sarandon.

Running time: 1 hours, 39 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for language, some sexual content and drug use).