By Gerald Peary
Greta is a slight, uninspired by-the-numbers genre film — we’ve seen this paranoia-inducing tale too often.
Greta, directed by Neil Jordan. Screening at Kendall Square Cinema, AMC Boston Common 19, and AMC South Bay Center.
The film I really wanted to watch had already started at the Somerville Theater. Should I see Greta instead? I was wary after reading Ty Burr’s 1 1/2 * slam in The Globe. Still, Ireland’s Neil Jordan is a decent veteran director (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game); and any movie starring Isabelle Huppert can’t be all bad, can it? The great French actress has a forty-year history of handpicking movies of interest, often transgressive ones, and of opting to work with quality filmmakers. So I paid my money, and walked into Greta.
A mistake! It’s a slight, uninspired by-the-numbers genre film, and we’ve seen this paranoia-inducing tale too often: in the modern city, the protagonist meets someone who, though eccentric, seems so nice and neighborly at first, such a relief from the uncaring urban world. In reality, our naïve hero/heroine has latched onto a nut job, and has put his/her one life in jeopardy.
The patsy here is Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz), a straight-laced Smith girl who, upon finishing college, moves to NYC. Her privileged college friend, Erica (Maika Monroe), has been given a juicy present for graduating: a large loft in lower Manhattan with sufficient space for Erica to have a roommate. We have no idea what either of the young woman want to do with their lives beyond, Erica especially, sipping cocktails at yuppie taverns. While in New York, Frances takes a job as a waitress in an expensive restaurant. For both, all is in place for a prime twenty-something living experience in the big city.
Until that fatal day when Frances finds a pocketbook sitting upright on a seat in the subway.
Her roomie suggests they take the cash within, but Frances is a good girl. She locates a Brooklyn address inside, and goes there in person to return the pocketbook. And that’s where she meets its grateful French owner, Huppert’s Greta. Greta invites Frances in for coffee, and Frances soon relaxes in this lovely, old-fashioned apartment, something decidedly au provence. Frances and Greta become quick friends, though there is a 40-year age difference. The explanation for the amity is Freud 101. Greta’s musician husband is dead and her adult daughter, she says, resides in Paris and rarely visits. Frances is a kind of substitute daughter. As for Frances: her father (Colin Feore), who makes a brief appearance in the movie, is the stereotype distracted businessman dad. Though Frances has a best pal as her roommate, she’s lonely because her mother is deceased. So Greta serves the role of surrogate mom.
That’s the setup for Greta, a little neat but not too bad. The shift of the story into a much creepier mode also works at first, when (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Frances opens a cabinet at Greta’s apartment and it’s jammed full of copies of that same pocketbook, with names of young women and phone numbers pinned on the side of each. Frances shudders to realize that she’s not special at all! What happened to all those women? And was it a good idea that Frances went with Greta to find a rescue dog at a shelter? Is that trusting dog, now in Greta’s hands, in danger?
It’s amazing to me that all the smart people working on this film never put in the necessary scene, in which Frances attempts to trace down some of the other women whom Greta had befriended. Again, she has their phone numbers! And the fate of the dog is worried about, then promptly forgotten about.
Instead, Greta becomes a tedious, ugly stalker film with its eponymous character, in an almost supernatural way (again, no explanation), terrorizing both Frances and Erica. The police are brought in several times, and there are unconvincing explanations of why the young gals are not helped by the law, why they are on their own. The fine actor, Steven Rea, is misused as the detective who snoops about Greta’s house with a predictable miserable outcome. Did he never see Psycho?
Greta, in summation, is hardly prime Huppert. But Isabelle goes along gamely, doing her part without gagging or winking, staying cool and unsentimental to the film’s lame, unsatisfying conclusion. Maybe a nice paycheck and a couple of months of shooting in New York made it bearable, a rest stop for Huppert before moving to a film of worth.
A counter view of Greta in the Arts Fuse from Isaac Feldberg
Gerald Peary is a Professor Emeritus at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of nine books on cinema, writer-director of the documentaries For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism and Archie’s Betty, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess. He is currently at work co-directing with Amy Geller a feature documentary, The Rabbi Goes West.