Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Isaac Nevrla, Sergio Acevedo, Isabela Jacobsen, Geoff Burt, David Arturo Sanchez
Ryan Sarno

114 Mins.

 Movie Review: The Greatest 
Add to favorites

If you know anything about LGBTQ+ history in America, then you're familiar with 1969's Stonewall uprising, an uprising triggered by police abuses and the raiding of the still in existence Stonewall Inn , a Greenwich Village icon and a reminder that within my own lifetime as a child of the 60's to be LGBTQ+ in America was considered abnormal and those who identified as such faced fierce and often violent opposition. 

It is in this 60's era that writer/director Ryan Sarno's The Greatest exists. We're introduced to a handsome young man, Jay (Isaac Nevrla), who lives an ordinary life with ordinary expectations of work, marriage, and family on the horizon. Jay will marry Beverly (Isabela Jacobsen). 

Everything will be, well, normal. 

Then, Jay meets Ricky (Sergio Acevedo). 

The Greatest had its world premiere at Cinequest Film Festival and is set for a May 20th screening at the Big Apple Film Festival. Set in New York, this 1960's LGBT drama is at times tender and other times tragic. It's a film that explores the love triangle between Jay, Beverly, and Ricky while never letting us forget the often profound societal responses, moreso in the 1960's but still present in a myriad of ways, when someone comes along and challenges societal norms. 

Sarno has acknowledged The Greatest as a fictional story with autobiographical tones throughout. What price do we pay as a human being when we suppress ourselves to fit expectations of society? Of family? Of those around us? What price does society pay? 

The beauty of The Greatest is that it's both intimate and universal. The Greatest tells a story that requires we believe as much in Jay and Beverly as we do in Jay and Ricky. Sarno wisely avoids demonizing any of the key individuals here, though certainly there are moments in The Greatest that are an absolute gut-punch. More than once I found myself mumbling "This kind of thing really did happen in my lifetime!" and feeling something between shame and remorse and just plain sadness. 

Isaac Nevrla is incredibly impressive as Jay, a charismatic young man possessing both strength and vulnerability and whose life we immerse ourselves in very quickly. His relationship with Beverly feels honest yet somehow off. The wonderful Isabela Jacobsen captures this lack of certainty quite powerfully with a performance that feels incredibly heavy and never hits a false note. The power of Jay's suppression is even more vivid because his marriage is never allowed to turn into a caricature.

However, there's also never any doubt of the chemistry between Jay and Ricky. So many films would have turned Ricky into some one-note playboy of sorts. Instead, he feels fully alive here and Sergio Acevedo captures him as a rather authentic, poetic figure with a quiet tenderness. Acevedo's performance is, indeed, a rich and emotional layer for the film that absolutely captivates. 

The Greatest is both uncompromising in its truth and yet never unnecessarily histrionic. The truth itself is dramatic and adding melodramatic notes would have potentially ruined it all. Instead, Sarno immerses us in the 60's culture with a familiar yet wonderful soundtrack, slightly muted and natural lensing by Kareem Atallah that practically makes us a companion to the goings on, and an overall design that is remarkable in its honesty. 

While we spend a good majority of The Greatest with Jay and Ricky as younger men, I'd be remiss to not mention the beautiful performances of Geoff Burt and David Arturo Sanchez as elder versions of these men we grow to care deeply about. Burt is simply extraordinary here, a lifetime of lessons companioned by love, loss, supression, and regret worn by his entire being. Sanchez, as well, has a relatively brief but absolutely memorable appearance. 

Indeed, while I dare not give it away, the end of The Greatest, including an ever so slight but vital turn by Jade Cayne, finally burst my dam and left me in tears. 

The Greatest is destined to continue to be a popular selection along its festival journey and one can only hope it finds a quality indie distributor to bring it to a wider audience. With a talented ensemble and an important, compelling story, The Greatest is a cinematic rollercoaster grounded in love. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic