Film Review: A Green Story

A highly admiring documentary might have been preferable to this highly admiring feature which paints a blandly noble portrait of a worthy pioneer in the ecology business.

A Green Story, the tale of Van Vlahakis (Ed O’Ross), the founder of Earth Friendly Products, could also be titled A Greek Story, with its thorough emphasis on his Hellenic background. Nika Agiashvili‘s rather worshipful coverage of Vlahakis’ life goes back to his childhood World War II roots and the tragic death of his father at the hands of the Nazis. Coming to America with a few dollars in his pocket, he lived the American Dream, with the creation of his hugely successful line of environmentally friendly cleaning products.

It’s a particularly impressive example of the triumph of the immigrant experience, a great story, but the film—riddled with distracting flashbacks as Van surveys his life, having just been diagnosed with terminal cancer—is just not dramatic enough to really compel you, despite those early Nazis and, later, Van’s decision to leave a chemical company because of their unethical practices. The fact that the medical diagnosis was wrong and Vlahakis is still alive—with daughter Kelly as executive producer—might account for the often clichéd aura of stoic nobility which continually seeps through. As portrayed in the film, Vlahakis is something of a womanizer we can chuckle over, but that would appear to be his only fault—apart from the usual working-too-hard-to-spend-quality-time-with-the-loved-ones trope. His daughter Kelly (Shannon Elizabeth, modestly covered up and working hard at seriousness) has married a black man, and there apparently wasn’t even much objection on the part of this crusty immigrant to something which might have torn many a family asunder. The ending, of course, is tagged to that misdiagnosis, and we see a fadeout of this patriarch finally stopping to smell those roses and enjoying a boat ride with his adorable mixed-race granddaughter.

O’Ross gives one of those magisterially monotonous portraits of a great man which have bored us through the movie years since Paul Muni. The far handsomer and more warmly appealing George Finn plays Van as a young man, but the physical and temperamental difference between the two actors strains viewer credibility (along with there being no explanation of when, exactly, Van got a nose job). The rather overpopulated cast is filled with familiar faces like Malcolm McDowell (as a malevolently greedy business mogul), Roger Bart (hamming it up as his minion), Billy Zane (as a similar corporate weasel) and Annabella Sciorra as one of the many, many comely women in the film devastatingly smitten by Van’s Old World charm. All of which only makes you think that the world of big business hasn’t a patch on Hollywood for being difficult, job-wise, if all of these actors have to grab for such crumbs as are offered here.