Published Oct 15, 2020It's corny and played out, but there's a reason why phrases like "hell world" have become overused to the point of cliché — things are a bit of a mess out there. Between growing income inequality, a seemingly endless pandemic, rampant racism and the increasingly obvious return of fascism, it's not looking great. But here's a by-the-numbers Hulu documentary to remind us that if those things don't get us, global warming will.
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg is the sworn enemy of Facebook MAGA uncles and the chosen saviour of Twitter's #TheResistance, so naturally she's a perfect fit for a new documentary. Cinematographer Nathan Grossman happened to be hitting record at the right time to get director credit on I Am Greta, but he can't really figure out what he wants to do with the source material.
Greta's story is undeniably fascinating. As a teenager living with Aspergers in Sweden, she became hyper-focused on climate change at an early age. Rather than move on, she started protesting at her local parliament buildings. The movement organically grew, and within a year there was a global wave of teen protests and every world leader was clamouring for a photo op with Thunberg.
The film's strengths lie in the access that was given to Greta's most pivotal moments. (Although this too raises questions — was the camera really rolling when Greta and her father received their first surprise phone call inviting her to the United Nations?) The balance lies between life as a teen — complaining about food, being cranky to her dad — and time spent perfecting undeniably powerful speeches that resonate around the world. Still, even this access grows tiresome as much of Greta's behind-the-scenes life involves waiting around in drab conference rooms. This is a story about a child who took a sailboat from Europe to America to avoid a large carbon footprint, but it's still pretty boring most of the time.
What makes Greta so fascinating a figure is the fact that she sees through everyone's bullshit (as evidenced by her viral speeches, all of which are far better than any context added by the film). The documentary briefly demonstrates that she's perturbed by politicians who would love to get a selfie or professional photo with her to prove that they're on the right side of history. But the grand irony is one that plagues all Big Issue documentaries — there's really no call to action or purpose to the film. Instead, it will likely offer a pacifying reassurance to those that choose to watch it over Selling Sunset or The Circle or any of the other thousands of seemingly trashier shows.
Even its name, I Am Greta, puts it in the same category as myriad other films about media personalities, and everything about this film feels interchangeable with the rest of them. The film is a (somewhat inspiring) portrait of a media personality, but not one that exposes the deeper issues or offers much more than generic platitudes. (Hulu)