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In Theaters: GRETA (2019)

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GRETA
(US/South Korea/China/Ireland - 2019)

Directed by Neil Jordan. Written by Ray Wright and Neil Jordan. Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Stephen Rea, Colm Feore, Zawe Ashton, Jeff Hiller, Jessica Preddy, Thaddeus Daniels. (R, 98 mins)

Best known for 1986's MONA LISA, 1992's THE CRYING GAME, and 1994's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan has all the cache that comes with being a respected, Oscar-nominated director, but his career as a whole has been pretty hit-or-miss. Sure, he's also made fine films like 1996's MICHAEL COLLINS, 1997's THE BUTCHER BOY, 2002's THE GOOD THIEF, and 2010's little-seen ONDINE, and he created the acclaimed 2011-2013 Showtime series THE BORGIAS, but he's also got plenty of clunkers taking up space on his IMDb page, among them 1988's HIGH SPIRITS, one of the worst comedies of its decade, 1989's WE'RE NO ANGELS, a justifiably forgotten exercise in shameless mugging for Robert De Niro and Sean Penn, 1999's IN DREAMS, and 2007's embarrassingly bad Jodie Foster vigilante thriller THE BRAVE ONE. The box office success of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE aside, Jordan typically doesn't fare well when he's in genre journeyman mode. With that in mind, one might approach GRETA, his first big-screen effort since his intermittently interesting 2013 vampire film BYZANTIUM, with some trepidation. A throwback to the sort of SINGLE WHITE FEMALE-esque, "(blank)-from-Hell" psycho-thrillers that were epidemic in the 1990s, GRETA is fun in a check-your-brain-at-the-door kind of way. To its credit, it isn't delusional enough to take itself too seriously, but at the same time, it can't just do some of the stupid shit it does and let Jordan off the hook just because he's a respected filmmaker slumming in a lurid B thriller that's significantly gussied-up by an overqualified star.






Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a quiet old soul from Boston living in NYC with her bratty, spoiled friend Erica (Maika Monroe of IT FOLLOWS) in a spacious Tribeca loft given to Erica as a graduation gift by her wealthy father. A recent Smith College graduate working as a server in an upscale restaurant, Frances keeps her distance from her workaholic dad back home (Colm Feore) and is still processing her grief following her mom's death from cancer a year earlier. After work one evening, Frances spots an abandoned handbag on the subway and takes it home. Refusing to indulge Erica's suggestion that they keep the wad of cash that's inside and toss the bag, Frances checks an ID in the purse and the next morning, does the right thing and returns it to its owner in Brooklyn. That owner is Greta Hadig (Isabelle Huppert), a retired piano teacher. She's grateful for Frances' act of kindness, invites her in for coffee, and the pair quickly form a surrogate mother-daughter relationship when Frances, still missing her beloved mother, learns that Greta is a lonely widow whose estranged daughter is at a music conservatory in Greta's native France. Ditching a night of clubbing with an incredulous and seemingly insensitive Erica to have a quiet dinner with Greta, things come to a screeching halt when Greta has Frances grab some candles in the other room and she opens the wrong cabinet, finding over a dozen identical handbags with Post-It notes with the names of who found them, including one that reads "Frances McCullen."


Quickly realizing it's a sick scam and understandably creeped out, Frances feigns a sudden illness and leaves, immediately deciding that Greta is bad news. But Greta wants a friend and won't be ignored. She texts Frances hundreds of times, leaves a ton of messages on their home phone (call it nitpicking, but nothing says "directed and co-written by a 69-year-old" like a Tribeca twenty-something with a landline), and starts showing up at Frances' job, both inside and standing outside, motionless, intimidatingly staring at the restaurant for the entire duration of Frances' shift. She shows up outside the apartment, then texts Frances a series of pics that show she's following Erica and intending to harm her. Frances also discovers some secrets about Greta's family, starting with the fact that she's Hungarian and pretending to be French (which doesn't really have any bearing on anything). Of course, there isn't enough evidence for the cops to do anything, though Greta eventually causes a scene at the restaurant and gets arrested. She's promptly released, and the pair reach a tentative truce until Greta goes further off the deep end, hellbent on ensuring she has Frances all to herself.


The kind of film that probably would've been the #1 movie in America for three weeks if this was March of 1999 instead of 2019, GRETA is dumber than a box of rocks, but there's no denying that it's entertaining. Sure, one can complain about the rampant stupidity of the characters. Once Erica figures out Greta is stalking her and confronts her on a crowded bus, what does she then do? Of course, she gets off the bus packed to the gills with potential witnesses and heads straight down the nearest dark alley alone. And when a psycho is holding you captive in a hidden room in their house and you manage to briefly get the upper hand via an impromptu finger amputation-by-cookie cutter, where do you run? Where else? The dark, cobweb-filled basement with no exit! Moretz isn't really required to do much more than be distraught and frazzled, while Monroe doesn't have a whole lot to do but the arc of her character is probably the most legitimately unpredictable element (frequent Jordan star Stephen Rea also turns up in the third act as a private eye hired by Frances' father). But GRETA wouldn't be much without the heroic efforts of the great Huppert, the iconic French legend with a record 16 Cesar Award nominations over a career dating back to 1971, and who's no stranger to throwing herself into a character, as anyone who's seen Michael Haneke's THE PIANO TEACHER and her Oscar-nominated performance in Paul Verhoeven's ELLE can attest. Taking what's a spiritual successor to the kind of "horror hag" roles that gave a major second wind to the careers of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Olivia de Havilland and others in the 1960s when they began aging out of traditional leading lady gigs and running with it, Huppert is off the chain throughout GRETA. Initially coming off as vulnerable yet vaguely sinister (you know something's up when she's having coffee with Frances and they're interrupted by a pounding that she blames on "the neighbors"), Huppert goes from zero-to-batshit pretty quickly, refusing to take no for an answer ("Everybody needs a friend!"), poisoning an elderly dog, furiously spitting gum in Frances' hair, flipping tables over in a posh restaurant while ranting in Hungarian, and pirouetting around her house while she disposes of an unwanted intruder. It's a role that's mostly beneath someone of Huppert's esteemed caliber, but she doesn't treat it as such, knowing exactly what kind of movie she's in and classing it up simply by probably relishing the opportunity to go over-the-top as the villain in a commercial thriller. GRETA doesn't hold up under much scrutiny, but it moves briskly and has a game star carrying it on her shoulders. Who ever thought we'd get to see Isabelle Huppert headlining a wide release in 2019?



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