I Am Greta review: a documentary that’s a missed opportunity

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A documentary digging into the story of Greta Thunberg frustratingly never really gets to grips with its subject – here’s our review.

In 2018, a documentary filmmaker heard from a friend about a 15-year-old girl striking outside the Swedish Parliament, demanding action on climate change. However, this filmmaker’s journey behind this teenager was only the start as he became a first-hand witness to the youngster’s meteoric rise to fame.

Directed by Nathan Grossman, I Am Greta follows Greta Thunberg’s career from humble school strikes to her sailing from Plymouth to New York, where she delivered her impassioned speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. When audiences see the documentary’s opening credits, the powerful images taken all over the world, along with the dismissive comments from politicians about climate change, may come across as normal. As a society, we expect to see and hear these in news clips or documentaries elsewhere. But given the context, it is easy to see the root of Thunberg’s frustrations.

Starting out on a street with a simple painted placard, Thunberg is seen as a gifted child whose fierce advocacy on environmentalism has inspired a new generation of activists. As the documentary goes on, she is seen as a ‘mascot’ of sorts; being paraded in front of esteemed political leaders throughout Europe such as presidents and ministers, and forced to smile among a smattering of cameras. But there is an inkling in Thunberg’s expression that she knows all of this supposed glamour is for show. Instead, she shines through the candour and unapologetic tone in her speeches, which display her passion regarding climate change while remaining unfazed by the media and world leaders.

Although there are subtle reminders that Thunberg is only a teenager, ranging from her baking with her mother to her tending to her dogs, her private life is never fully explored in this film. There is very little mention about her influence on the family such as adopting veganism and giving up on flying (resulting in her mother giving up her singing career), and the depth of Thunberg family’s support regarding her mental health isn’t very clear. As a result, it feels like a waste that Grossman – a person with intimate access to Thunberg’s home, school and public life – hasn’t fully captured the private side of a public figure.

It means, on the basis of the film, that it’s hard to believe a pigtailed teenager is capable of such feats. That because I Am Greta fails to provide a rounded view, we don’t get the full story behind such a prominent individual. This one’s a missed opportunity.


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