I AM GRETA (directed by Nathan Grossman, 97 minutes, USA, 2020)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC I Am Greta isn’t looking to change any minds about the teenage climate activist, or further educate anyone on the issue of climate change. Instead this Hulu Original documentary looks to do one thing, and it does that extremely well – humanize its subject through intimate portraiture. Granted unrestricted access to his subject, director Nathan Grossman takes his camera behind the scenes of the fire-breathing take-no-shit public personae and her #FridaysForFuture movement to reveal the humble origins of Greta’s crusade, her family life and her struggles with Asperger’s.
The film sets the tone early reiterating Greta’s famous and typically precocious statement that one of the positives of her condition is the “ability to see through all the static.” For reasons the film never really explains, Thunberg fixated on the issue of climate change from an early age, consuming any and all information she could find on the subject. This eventually led to her protest alone outside of the Swedish Parliament, with a simple cardboard sign stating “SKOLSTREJK FÖR KLIMATET” or school strike for climate. The documentary is there from the beginning, as her parents reluctantly allow their daughter to begin her strike, which only grew as more and more of the global youth were inspired by her passionate call for awareness.
We see plenty of the marches and the speeches that followed, but the film is most powerful in its quieter moments as it delves into Greta’s upbringing and her relationship with her parents. When I first saw Thunberg speak, I assumed she had been indoctrinated in her parents’ politics. As we discover from extended glimpses of Thunberg’s home life, that’s simply not the case. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Like any loving parents of a willful child obsessed with anything, they’ve come to embrace Greta’s lifestyle and beliefs, which have in turn become their own, thru the sheer, force-of-nature will of their headstrong daughter. When she went vegan, it was only a matter of time before her parents did too. Greta also refuses to fly because of the toll flight takes on the environment, a vow her parents eventually adopted. This bit plays heavily into the harrowing final act of the film, when Greta crosses the Atlantic in a sailboat with her father to speak at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York.
Her father Svante is the primary force we see in the film as he struggles to both enable the young activist while still protecting his little girl. We see him not only deal with the expected teenage meltdowns, but also taking classes in emergency medical techniques after the young girl is besieged by death threats. Her family candidly discusses her mental illness and how she was severely bullied as a young girl, barely speaking to anyone other than her immediate family for months at end. Her journey into the public eye has not been an easy one for the tender-aged Thunberg, who we see in private dancing and playing with her pets as you’d expect any 17-year-old to do.
While most kids take up an extracurricular activity like tap dancing or lacrosse, Thunberg set her sites higher: saving the world. It’s so rare that one teenager’s passion would influence the world stage, but we see her parents do their best to help shoulder the weight of her cause, even though it takes its toll on everyone in her household. Through the film it slowly becomes clear just why, however. Fighting back tears her mother explains that thanks to her crusade to heal the world, she has also healed herself, overcoming over and over again what were once insurmountable barriers to spread awareness and save us from ourselves.