In Neil Jordan’s Greta, Chloë Grace Moretz plays Frances “Frankie” McCullen, a young woman living and working in New York City as a waitress at a high-end restaurant. From what we learn about her in the opening scenes of the film, we see that she leads a somewhat lonely life, having recently lost her mother to cancer, and rarely speaking to her father. The father and daughter are not necessarily estranged from one another, but the relationship appears to be strained. Frances’ only friend is her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe), whose lively and outgoing personality seems to be the polar opposite of Frances’ unassuming and meek character. Given how different they are, we might even begin to wonder how they are even friends.
Case in point: when Frances finds a handbag on a subway train one day, she surreptitiously makes off with it, quickly deciding that – being the kind-hearted person that she is – it should be returned to its owner. Erica, on the other hand, would rather pocket the cash that was left in the bag and treat herself to a spa day. Ultimately, Frances ignores her friend’s suggestion and ventures off to return the bag to a lonely widow by the name of Greta (Isabelle Huppert). It is here that the plot really kicks into gear: Greta appears delighted to see that Frances went out of her way to return the lost bag, and invites her in for a cup of tea. Seeing that Greta leads a similarly lonely existence in the city, Frances feels an instant connection to Greta, and they even exchange phone numbers and arrange to meet up again. Erica, of course, finds the relationship bizarre and points out the obvious: Frances sees Greta as a kind of surrogate mother as a way to cope with the loss of her real mother.
But if you’ve heard or read anything about the film, or seen its trailer, you will surely be aware that this is most certainly not a quaint drama about a friendship between a young woman and an old French lady who is old enough to be her grandmother. It’s not really a spoiler to point out that Frances discovers Greta might not be who she says she is. Indeed, one evening when having dinner together, Frances finds several identical handbags in Greta’s cabinet and quickly deduces that Greta has planted several bags throughout the city in order to lure people gullible enough to take the bait. Feeling worried and betrayed, she cuts off all ties with Greta, much to the latter’s chagrin.
The story then cranks up the thrills as it becomes a full-blown stalker flick, with Greta leaving Frances countless voicemails, intimidating her at work, and even harassing her friend Erica. The film goes all out, piling all the clichés of the stalker genre on top of each other, and many of the roles in the story feel like stock characters: there’s the best friend, the distant father, the private investigator, and of course the ineffectual cop who refuses to take the heroine’s credible concerns seriously. There’s even a character from Greta’s past who exists solely to dole out important backstory about her mysterious past. And of course there is a final showdown with all sorts of predictably outrageous twists and turns.
Yet, none of these clichés are necessarily a detriment to the film, as Jordan and his screenplay have their tongue planted firmly in cheek throughout. In fact, it becomes so over the top to the point that it becomes humorous. Audiences will surely laugh at the film’s campy dialogue, predictable jump scares, and plot twists you can see coming a mile away. However, this is not what you would call an unintentional comedy. The film never takes itself seriously and has the self-awareness to know that it’s not going to win any awards for originality or complexity. At a certain point, Jordan and his actors ask the audience simply to throw their hands up and just enjoy the crazy ride, even if we know exactly where it’s going.
A large part of the reason it all works is due to the outrageously balls-to-the-wall performance of the remarkable Isabelle Huppert. Huppert, who is often referred to as the “French Meryl Streep”, had for a long time flown under the radar of British and American audiences until she received mainstream recognition for her Oscar-nominated role in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (2016). In a rare English-language role, Huppert shines as the titular Greta, portraying her as an unhinged woman seemingly devoid of all moral reason. And even when we learn more about Greta’s past, the actress refuses to make her character’s motivations more sympathetic or palatable to the audience, instead revelling in Greta’s twisted depravity. At one point, she even breaks out into a balletic dance following one of her crimes, in a scene that is sure to get laughs out of the audience, if only for its sheer bizarreness.
Also worthy of note in the cast is Monroe, who not only holds her own against an acting stalwart like Huppert, but almost threatens to steal the entire movie out from under the two leads altogether, with her acerbic one-liners and voice-of-reason frankness. Without giving too much away, many of the film’s most memorable scenes involve her character thanks to Monroe’s funny, yet intensely committed performance.
Despite the overly familiar plot and reliance on genre clichés, the film’s sheer entertainment value will likely keep audiences engaged, not least due to the fierce performances and self-aware humour. Jordan knows the film may not really amount to more than the sum of all its borrowed parts, but it nevertheless achieves what it sets out to do: offer us a wickedly good time at the movies.