The tear-swollen domestic tragedy The Greatest kicks directly into emotional high gear with an opening scene of tentative teenage sex between a solicitous boy (Aaron Johnson) and an effervescent girl (An Education's Carey Mulligan), followed by the sickening thud of a car collision. But keep your seat belt buckled, because first-time writer-director Shana Feste is just getting started. Mourning the boy's car-crash death, perpetually sobbing mom (Susan Sarandon, an old hand at the assignment), stoic dad (Pierce Brosnan), and alienated younger brother (Johnny Simmons) are jolted into a whole new level of melodrama by the doorstep arrival of the girl, Rose, now healed fom her injuries and, it turns out, pregnant with the child of their dead boy.
At least Feste acknowledges the influence of Robert Redford's more controlled (and thus far more devastating) 1980 grieving-family classic Ordinary People on her own overloaded, hyperventilating version. In fact, she relies on esteemed cinematographer John Bailey, who shot Redford's Oscar-winning original. As a result, although The Greatest is a histrionic mess, at least it looks clean. C