Everything has an end, even companionship. Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) is still reeling after the recent loss of her mother. She’s attempting to start anew in Manhattan, leaving Boston and her father behind, and getting by on waitressing and getting some assistance from her best friend/roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe).
As many New Yorkers do, Frances takes the subway to and from everywhere, and one day during her commute home, finds a missing, elaborate handbag. Without hesitation, she decides to return the bag to its rightful owner the following day, one Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), an elderly French femme who similarly has dealt with losses of her loved ones. In each other, they find a cute companionship. Until, Frances finds her new friend to be overly friendly. Upon ceasing their friendship, the young woman discovers that bonds are tough to break, and only end when the other person wants them to.
Anyone who’s followed this site for a while may be well aware of yours truly’s affinity for a particular sub-genre; that being—if it has a name—the psycho-stalker sub-genre. Anything from Clint Eastwood’s movie that somewhat started it all in Play Misty for Me, to recent fare in The Perfect Guy and the genre-subversive psychological character study thriller that was The Gift. Let’s forget The Boy Next Door and Unforgettable happened. Nonetheless, I’m usually game for and have accepted the genre’s oft-clunkiness and things one must look past to enjoy. To make a simile, this sub-genre is my reality television, the aforementioned films representing Jersey Shore and Temptation Island. What can I say, I am a flawed man, and Greta is a flawed movie that I relatively enjoyed.
Greta stands as the first movie that Irish director Neil Jordan has lent directorial efforts to in almost seven years, and over a decade if everything after 2007’s The Brave One (his last movie to get an American wide release) is forgotten. The director isn’t a nobody; he’s won many awards overseas as well as an Oscar (Best Original Screenplay-The Crying Game) in 1992. Jordan’s film is decidedly old-school despite seemingly taking place in the present day, this feeling aided by a classical score turned in by Javier Navarrete and a Manhattan that feels like Woody Allen’s. Some of the film, or at least the first 30 or so minutes, could be described as a horror-thriller desperately trying to be dramatic.
With its drama setup, there’s a strong feeling that Jordan and co-writer Ray Wright want to say something of substance in Greta before all the familiar sub-genre hi-jinks (well filmed by the way, with a superb double fake-out commencing the final act) go down. Whether it’s about plain old loneliness, or simply coping with loss and trying to fill the void with anything, the themes and questions only halfway come together. So, weight isn’t something that Greta achieves in delivering, and the logic and incompetence that various characters work with can be questionable at best and maddening illogical at worst. Yet, there’s legitimate, edge-of-seat unease at times when Greta is at her best, attributed somewhat to the direction, but mainly to its actress playing the titular character.
There’s one hard and fast rule to use when assessing this sub-genre’s films: If the antagonist’s performance is fun and “believable,” then the film overall works. Sometimes, some of these features have struggled when their stars don’t imbue their antagonists with subtle red flags and play their characters too straight, making the “turn” laughable, or coming off as a psychopath too soon. As Greta, Huppert has one of 2019’s early best performances, fully attuned to what the film calls for when warranted. Her performance is methodically meticulous; the best type of approach for these features. Moretz is solid and gets better as Greta moves along in the run-time. And once again, the charismatic Monroe makes her mark in a film that progressively gets weirder the longer it goes.
Who is Greta? An upper-middle genre movie both trashy and tense. Gives new meaning to “Going to hell in a handbag.”
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