Film review, by Jason Day, of Greta (2018) the psychological thriller about a young woman stalked by an older woman who punishes her for not being the surrogate daughter she always wanted. Starring Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz.
Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) is young, new to living in New York City and green around the gills. Her beloved mother died a year ago so she moves in with her rich, hip friend Erica (Maika Monroe), finds herself a job waiting on tables and starts to live again after mourning.
One day she notices someone has left their handbag on the subway. In a random act of kindness, she returns it to the grateful owner. Greta (Isabelle Huppert) is a widowed, middle-aged French woman. Cultured and stylish she is lonely, her daughter having moved to Paris many months before. Frances, in need of a mother-figure, strikes up a friendship with Greta that swiftly becomes intense and needy, on both sides.
Cooking dinner with Greta, Frances discovers a cupboard full of handbags similar to the one she returned. Sensing something is very wrong, she makes her exit, but Greta does not tolerate her ‘daughter’ leaving in such a way and a psychological game of matrilineal cat and mouse ensues.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
No one does a better Euro-nutter than Isabelle Huppert.
From her career-starting turn in The Lacemaker (1977) as the virginal Beatrice who goes mad after falling in love, to starring as The Piano Teacher (2001) who enters into a S&M relationship with her pupil and – in the most shocking scene – hacks off her genitals, to the rape victim who takes unconventional reparative measures in Paul Verhoeven’s controversial Elle (2016), you know when Huppert’s name appears on the credits of a psychological thriller, you have a leading lady who will give you your money’s worth.
With those films, the motivations of Huppert’s outwardly winsome, inwardly axe-wielding madwomen about town were explained with the melodic inflections of the French language. Romantique? Tragique? D’accord, quoi d’autre!
Her Greta is established through the relatively glib, workmanlike English of Manhattan New York. It’s amusing to postulate that if the film was entirely European, we would have had a very different movie. One shorn of a sweet (although understandable) denouement and which could have bashed so furiously on the weird buttons that the writer’s keyboard would have caught fire.
Rather like the top-billed La Huppert herself, who shows throughout this movie that she was up for going much further than the script allowed her. Oh, the callowness of Americana – they get us half-way up the creepy stairs and then pull the runner out from under our feet.
As I said, you expect nothing less than a gripping cray-cray from Huppert, whose dead-eyed, frozen stare could stop a Yeti in its tracks. Greta lives in a tiny mews apartment – I didn’t know you got those in ‘the city so nice they named it twice’? – nestling just a few steps away from the hum-drum of everyday Noo Yawk goings on. This urban ‘Hansel and Gretl’ witch, whose cottage in a dark, medieval German forest is replaced with a run-down red-brick building overgrown with ivy, is hidden away but close enough to pounce.
Despite this fairy-tale’s happy-as-can-be ending, director Neil Jordan does screw convention when his blood is up. Greta visits Frances at the exclusive restaurant where she works and all of the staff know exactly who she is – but they still make Frances wait on her nemesis.
Greta is cool and calm as she gives her order and you think this will follow the standard Hollywood stalker movie formula, with the victim quickly seen as neurotic and making things up and the tormentor seen as maligned and misunderstood.
But then Huppert has a full-on glass smashing, table-upending, ‘crazy bit’ meltdown and is swiftly carted off by the police and paramedics with her arms belted down.
It is a magnificently mental moment, but is dispatched so quickly as to be rendered inconsequential. A little more time and this could have been wonderful. As I said, Jordan does this throughout – he sets the action up perfectly but instead of push, push, push he reins things in.
Huppert’s pairing with American Moretz works well. Moretz has the hick from the sticks, all-wide-eyes-at-the-big-tall-buildings schtick down to a tee and you can readily believe how these two desperate, needy characters are drawn to each other. But even though I always love a movie that is only an hour and half long (for how much more a critic can do with their day when gifted an extra an 30 minutes of time by a movie?) here I wanted more. That extra half an hour could have allowed this queer-quirky relationship the opportunity to come to to full fruition.
Overall the film is camp in it’s oddity, but in terms of state-side audience taste, that works in its favour. Huppert’s character is after all a female Josef Fritzl, so it was essential writers Neil Jordan (who directed The Crying Game, 1991) and Ray Wright to push the boat out a bit and opt for a semi-jokey approach to a story about a female sociopath who tortures young women if this was to have any box office impact in the USA.
The jokes that land land well, especially those from Monroe as Frances’ seemingly superficial roomie who expresses Olympian prescience as soon as Greta comes on to the scene. Monroe is an unadulterated delight in Greta admitting that the title character, after stalking her through New York and texting pics to Frances in a genuinely unsettling scene: “(she) take(s) a good photo. I look bad-ass here)” with passionate, post-millennial conviction.
Underused – and not on screen for long enough – is Jordan regular Stephen Rea as the shaggy P.I. assigned to locate Frances and swiftly dispatched. He can’t be too good an investigator. Knowing he should be on his guard with a woman who has form, he is easily bested.
All joking aside, the too-light touch eventually means the film loses its grip on the audience, rather like Greta on reality. But to know Greta is, in part, to love and respect her and she is well worth seeing…even for just one coffee. That you never leave unattended!
For more, see the official website.
Cast & credits
Director: Neil Jordan. 1hr 38mins/98mins. Sidney Kimmel Entertainment/Lawrence Bender/Little Wave Productions. (15)
Producers: Lawrence Bender, James Flynn, Sidney Kimmel, John Penotti.
Writer: Neil Jordan, Ray Wright.
Camera: Seamus McGarvey.
Music: Javier Navarrete.
Sets: Anna Rackard.
Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Stephen Rea, Maikla Monroe, Colm Feore, Zawe Ashton, Thaddeus Daniels, Raven Dauda.