I Am Greta
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
I Am Greta (streaming on Hulu) is a documentary about Swedish teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg. My guess is, a purely informational sentence such as that will go a much longer way in influencing whether or not someone watches this movie than any opinion from any reviewer. Even if you do not know who Greta Thunberg is, the phrase “climate change activist” will be enough for a lot of people to make up their minds (not to mention the word “documentary”). As with anything that has been politicized, it is such a divisive topic that just seeing Greta’s name inspires rage in some and hope in others.
But don’t fret; I am not here to debate climate change because, oddly enough, that is not really what this movie is about (though, for the record, I do believe it is real and very serious). It never actually discusses the science its subject is so passionate about. Instead, it focuses solely on her. Chiefly, what it is like for a teenage girl with Asperger’s to become the face of a global cause. While it is highly unlikely to change any minds, it is an interesting look at a child who realized that Earth is bigger than her and it needs to be protected (a mindset I wish more politicians would have).
Greta was eight when she saw a video in school showing the impact of climate change. It devastated her. Her depression eventually evolved into a determination to be part of the solution. Her family became climate-friendly (electric cars, no flying, no meat or dairy, etc.) and then, in 2018, she began sitting outside Swedish Parliament on Fridays in protest of their lack of action in trying to solve this issue. I Am Greta opens during this time period, when it was merely a cute human-interest story, and follows her as she becomes a symbol for the left and a target of the right.
Greta’s supporters call her brave. Her detractors call her naïve and say she is being manipulated. She is annoyed by both. Lots of people who become the face of a cause say they don’t want it to be about them. Never have I believed it more than with Greta Thunberg. She seems to consider the criticisms of her to be a distraction and the praise of her to be condescending and useless if it doesn’t precede action.
I Am Greta shows her meeting world leaders and giving emotional speeches where she rips into them for providing her generation with nothing besides empty promises. That stuff is certainly powerful, though many of us have already seen a lot of it. What’s most affecting are the scenes with her parents, who just see her as their little girl. The pride in, and worry for, their daughter who has overcome so much (also including selective mutism) in order to force people to address a major problem, reminds us she is a real human teenager and not a mascot for a cause (at one point she expresses concern that those in power who claim to support her are only using her to make it appear they’re doing something about the climate crisis).
Moments like her Dad pulling her away from a protest to make sure she eats or Greta breaking down due to home sickness during her journey by boat to New York really help to put her quest in perspective. Also effective are the scenes of her compulsively editing her speeches while her Dad tenderly tells her they’re good enough. Or when he unsuccessfully warns her against using terms like “mass extinction.”
You won’t learn anything about climate change here and it adds very little to Greta’s biography that isn’t already well known. I doubt it will get anybody to change their lifestyle, but I Am Greta is good at being a humanizing portrait of a teenager who desperately wants the adults in positions of authority to stop behaving like selfish children.
Directed by Nathan Grossman
3¼ out of 5