We’ve all known people whose clinginess has made them an annoyance, but hopefully few of us have known any of those hangers-on whose yearning for attention has morphed all the way into psychotic obsession. There is, however, no shortage of these types in the movies.
Such is the dynamic in director/co-writer Neil Jordan’s Greta between New Yorker Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert) after Frances finds an unattended handbag on a subway with Greta’s ID in it. Frances altruistically seeks out Greta to return the bag, and is invited inside for a cup of coffee. Frances has recently lost her mother. Greta’s daughter lives in Europe. Not surprisingly, the two strike up a friendship which may fill the void each feels in their lives. It isn’t long before Frances — and we — discover the terrible mistake she’s made. In fact, I felt like we discovered it a little too soon.
That may be because Jordan and the original writer, Ray Wright, are in a hurry to fundamentally change the structure and very nature of the story. What ostensibly feels like a psycho obsession movie akin to 1992’s Single White Female switches into full-blown Misery mode, and the transition is not only jarring but somehow unbelievable. Many times in the past, I’ve lauded a movie which pretends to be one thing but then becomes something different, but in this case, it doesn’t work for me.
Part of it, I almost hate to say, is Chloë Grace Moretz. I liked her OK the first time I noticed her in the 2010 superhero knockoff Kick-Ass, but ever since her casting in 2013’s remake of Carrie, I’ve been less impressed. (I freely admit that may be due to my hostility towards that film.)
Part of it is also the way her character, Frances, is written. She’s innocent — too innocent — and doesn’t understand anything about the big city. Yet her father seems to be a prominent designer, wealthy enough to spend significant cash to buy Frances and roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) a roomy condo. And why does the daughter of an affluent designer have to work for tips as a waitress and ride the subway home from work? Things just don’t add up. Moretz plays Frances as whiny and clueless, and I frankly don’t think she’s interesting enough to build this kind of movie around.
On the other hand, Monroe as Frances’ roomie and best friend is a lot sharper, funnier, and pretty much takes control of the movie whenever she’s on screen. Viewers may recall Monroe as the hapless heroine of 2014’s eerie horror thriller It Follows, and a sequence in Greta, where the titular psychopath is stalking Erica, seems similar to Monroe being stalked by the monster of that film.
Huppert is an added strength, chilling as the obsessive Greta and not afraid to carry it over the top. It’s not her first time playing an emotionally suspect pianist, as she did in 2001’s The Piano Teacher. Colm Feore, as Frances’ dad, and Jordan’s frequent collaborator Stephen Rea, as a private investigator hired by Frances’ dad, are both all but wasted. At least Oscar-nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey delivers some fine imagery, which makes the film seem a little more interesting.
I know it’s Oscar-winner Neil Jordan. I know he’s directed fine films — The Crying Game, Breakfast on Pluto, Michael Collins. Nevertheless, Greta seems like a piecemeal work, stitched together from far better movies, and, with the exception of Huppert and Monroe, dreadfully miscast. You just have to wonder why Greta becomes so obsessed with the bland, clueless Frances when there’s a metropolis full of more interesting victims to stalk.
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