The potential dangers of child vaccines are tackled with mild evenhandedness but little decisive insight in The Greater Good, which delivers human-interest horror stories and scattered facts in an attempt to call into question the safety of the numerous shots kids receive each year. Kendall Nelson and Chris Pilaro’s documentary makes slightly more than token gestures toward presenting both sides of the issue, as scientists and doctors who believe in vaccines are given a consistent platform to voice their views. Their claims, however, still don’t receive nearly the same amount of screen time as critics and individuals whose personal tales about disabled or dead children are used as the heartrending backbone for a case about the need for more information about vaccine research, trials, and standards. Those include a Wichita, Kansas teen who blames her crippling infirmities on Gardasil, the vaccine for female cervical cancer, an 11-year-old Portland, Oregon boy whose autism is pinned on mercury found in vaccines, and a Tulsa, Oklahoma couple who fault preventive shots for the death of their infant daughter, as well as the learning difficulties of their two sons—all touching anecdotal portraits of individual and familial suffering that the film nonetheless fails to posit as definitive proof for its cause.
The intersection between drug-company profiteering and lobbying, and governmental and private-sector desires to protect people from deadly diseases, is navigated too cursorily by The Greater Good, which addresses these intermingled motives seriously but without a means of truly coming to a conclusion about whether harmful drugs are pushed onto a gullible public without proper pre-release testing. Furthermore, while the demands of many skeptics for more information regarding vaccines is often affecting on an emotional level, the doc never truly confronts the fact that these requests for greater truth and transparency exist in an environment full of studies that refute contentions about the links between, say, autism and mercury. Too frequently, the film trots out half-formed ideas (including how the media contributes to a culture of blind-sheep vaccine acceptance) rather than fully investigating the data that underscores its debate, a fundamental shortcoming that, ultimately, is almost as frustrating as the directors’ employment of cutesy graphical sequences that treat the audience like children.