ISABELLE HUPPERT IN TITLE ROLE, OPENS IN U.S. THEATERS THIS WEEKEND
We've heard Brian De Palma sing the praises of Neil Jordan in the past, and now critics of Jordan's new film, Greta, are seeing what they perceive as homages to De Palma. Here are some review links and excerpts:
Imagine you're a 20-something living in New York City and you spot a particularly nice and structured green leather handbag on the subway. Do you report it to the MTA? Ignore it and move on? Claim it and its contents for yourself? Return to the owner?
For Chloe Grace Moretz's Frances, a wide-eyed transplant to the big city, it's obvious: You go alone to hand-deliver the bag to Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), who, according to the identification card you find, is a tiny, nice-looking woman in her 60s. This is the first of many mistakes Frances makes in writer and director Neil Jordan's ("The Crying Game," ''Michael Collins") stylish and knowingly over-the-top "Greta," a dark, Brian De Palma-esque fairy tale about the dangers of trusting a lonely soul. She might just turn out to be a wolf, right?
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
The psychological thriller Greta gets off to a promising start: As a camera discreetly follows Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz through a New York City subway, Julie London sings a silky version of “Where Are You?” and director Neil Jordan’s name appears on screen. Viewers familiar with Jordan’s previous work — from his script for Mona Lisa to the game-changing The Crying Game — will understandably feel prepared to encounter the kind of twisty but sophisticated puzzlers he’s best known for.
Er, not so fast.
As an exercise in style, Greta turns out to be a maddeningly mixed bag. Its New York setting (which should be another character in this tale of modern urban manners) is continually undercut by obviously foreign filming locations — Dublin and Toronto did the honors here — and its themes of vulnerability, obsession and ritualized violence are no less drearily familiar for being given a pseudo-feminist patina. An intriguing two-hander bursting with potential instead becomes something we’ve seen before — up to and including bizarre pivots into sadism and body horror.
Moretz plays Frances, a recent Smith College graduate who has moved to Tribeca with her best friend Erica (Maika Monroe), a wealthy fellow Smithie with no discernible job other than practicing yoga and tossing off cynical bon mots about crystal meth, colonics and how the Big (rotten) Apple is going to eat Frances alive. When the quiet, polite Frances finds an abandoned purse on the subway, she takes pains to find the owner, who turns out to be a French woman named Greta (Huppert), an eccentric but kind piano teacher who invites Frances for tea and conversation. Their relationship blooms, in part because Frances recognizes a nurturing figure she’s been missing since her own mother died, and soon the two are spending more and more time together, to the increasing consternation of the possessive Erica.
Alert readers will see the words “Huppert” and “piano teacher” in the same sentence and immediately sense impending doom. While Greta has none of the torturous rigor of Michael Haneke’s 2001 film The Piano Teacher, Jordan and co-screenwriter Ray Wright borrow heavily from other movies, especially classics from the paranoid canon of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
With a nod to Fatal Attraction here and one toward Single White Female there — not to mention brief homages to Brian De Palma all the way through — Greta feels as time-warped as its title character’s cozy but slightly confining apartment. Despite some clever work with cellphones and text messages, the story and atmosphere feel impossibly forced, shoehorned into a milieu that never feels authentic enough to elicit real dread.
The artificiality isn’t helped by an intrusive and cliched score, which prods the audience toward jump scares and creepy reveals with the uninvited pushiness of a musical mansplainer, and which returns time and again to a tiresome motif from Liszt’s maudlin “Liebestraum.” When Greta and Frances adopt a sweetly decrepit mutt named Morton, the foreshadowing couldn’t be clearer, and his fate hangs over the proceedings like a soulful, sad-eyed threat.
As those proceedings ratchet up, logic and intelligence give way to plot mechanics and pulp thrills. On behalf of Smithies everywhere, this one is here to tell you they’re brave but not this stupid.
Greta might pretend to turn the tables by presenting the sexualized predation of a young woman at the hands of a female malefactor instead of a male one. But the fetishistic leer is just as troubling and offensive. Disturbance eventually gives way to derangement in a story that grows exponentially more irritating the more preposterous it gets.
As Morton might say: When it rains, it pours.
Sean Burns, WBUR
The films of Irish writer-director Neil Jordan are all fairy tales at heart, though usually on the grimmer side of Grimm. Perhaps best known in this country for “The Crying Game” and “Interview with the Vampire,” Jordan can always be counted on for a tricky mix of literary sophistication and vulgar delights, brought off with a thick atmosphere of sinister enchantment and the showman’s flair of a wily Irishman spinning a yarn that’s half-malarkey and twice as enjoyable for it.
“Greta” — his first film in eight years — has more malarkey than most. Built out from the bones of a Friday night slasher pic, the screenplay (credited to Jordan and Ray Wright, from a story by Wright) infuses its generic stalker plot with all sorts of wild and wooly weirdness, fashioning it into a high-camp showcase for international art-house treasure Isabelle Huppert.
She gives a gloriously nutzoid performance here, punctuating her placid demeanor with delicious flashes of mania. The movie is what the kids used to call a hoot.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Frances, a timid Boston gal fresh out of school who’s just moved to big, scary New York City. She’s currently crashing with her ridiculously wealthy college roommate Erica (a very funny Maika Monroe) whose parents bought her a comically oversized SoHo loft for graduation. (In a visual gag designed to torment anyone who has ever endured Manhattan real estate woes, Frances rides her 10-speed bike around inside the apartment.)
One day Frances finds a forgotten handbag on the subway, and like a Good Samaritan looks inside for ID and sets about returning the purse to its rightful owner. (“This is New York,” Erica scolds. “You should have called the bomb squad.”) The bag belongs to Huppert’s Greta, a lonely widow living in a cluttered apartment lined with overgrown ivy.
This highfalutin’ French version of Eleanor Rigby has been longing for a friend like Frances, and the two take to one another almost instantly — though attentive viewers might already be wondering about that muffled pounding coming from the wall behind Greta’s piano. “Construction,” she claims.
It’s not exactly a surprise where all of this is headed, so credit “Greta” for getting down to business right away and dropping a big reveal most movies would save for the end of the second act somewhere around the 30-minute mark. It feels like Jordan wants to get all the pesky plot stuff squared away as quickly as possible, so he can concentrate on having Huppert terrorize young Moretz in increasingly baroque fashion as the movie jumps the genre rails into bonkersville.
Jordan and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey conjure a collection of gorgeously evocative images. Moretz has the face of a cherub in a church painting, and maybe the most startlingly beautiful shot finds her crying at the movies with her eyes hidden behind 3D glasses, a vision of sorrowful kitsch.
As “Greta” gets kookier the visuals become more vividly expressionistic — Huppert’s shadow stretching long across the length of the living room floor like the wicked queen in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” while Moretz dons a little red riding hoodie.
“Greta” is a feast to look at and pretty much a riot to watch, taking fiendish delight in the story’s inherent predictability by piling one fake-out on top of one another. There’s a dream within a dream sequence here that employs the same audience-taunting tactics as Brian De Palma’s “Raising Cain,” and it became unfortunately clear during the screening I attended that not everyone in the crowd was in on the joke.
The director got into a bit of trouble and seemed to be banished for a little while after the calamitous reception of his last Hollywood picture, 2007’s “The Brave One” — a fascinatingly misguided attempt to remake “Death Wish” with Jodie Foster as an NPR talk show host in the Charles Bronson role. It’s a deeply weird movie that felt mostly like a semiotic exorcism for its star’s complicated history of portraying victimized women, while also trying to work as a trashy fantasy for the four people in the world who wanted to watch Terry Gross gun down rapists.
I’m relieved to report that “Greta” does not take itself nearly as seriously, while still carrying over Jordan’s knack for making New York City look like a forest primeval. (Everyone in his movies always seem to be on their way to grandma’s house.)
The nutty pleasures of the film’s final act come primarily courtesy of Huppert’s wackadoo flourishes — considering the internet’s affection for the actress, this will probably be the most meme-d movie of 2019 — and an extra level of irony for anyone who was traumatized by her career-defining performance in Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher.”
Yet some of these scares still carry a Freudian kick, like a child’s toy chest re-purposed as an instrument of torture or the sinister properties of stuffed animals. Meanwhile, baking gingerbread cookies hasn’t been so perilous since the days of Hansel and Gretel. “Greta” is Jordan’s most gonzo fairy tale since 1999’s unfairly derided “In Dreams,” and in Huppert he’s found his ideal Big Bad Wolf.
Glenn Heath Jr., San Diego City Beat
A renowned Irish auteur whose diverse filmography jumps between genres, Jordan twists and contorts conventional thriller tropes to maximize Greta’s unshakeable neediness. The unpredictability of her actions eventually seeps into the aesthetics—a riveting and lucid sequence midway through the film pivots between dream and reality with effortless precision.
Blurred lines are Greta’s specialty. The gaps between companionship and obsession, kindness and guile, trust and doubt are much thinner than most like to admit. Frances experiences the slippery slope firsthand; most interestingly, though, Greta’s tactics merge digital stalking (texting and photography used with malicious glee) with old school confrontation.
Relying heavily on Huppert’s singular presence to keep its maniacal momentum alive, Jordan’s film uses her visage to successfully balance the tone between campy and creep out. This pushes Moretz into permanent victim status without much to do aside from screaming and clawing for life, the scared-straight woman to Greta’s big bad wolf.
Unlike Jordan’s previous film Byzantium, which tweaked the vampire construct with an impressionistic style, Greta (opening Friday, March 1) falls more in line with the neo-stalker narratives perfected by Brian De Palma. But it’s a film less concerned with voyeurism or sex than the idea of ultimate control manifesting itself in two ways: emotional and physical. When Greta is denied the former, she transitions to the latter. Huppert’s performance consistently lives between these two competing elements, giving her character volatility that is also rooted in desperation.
But what is the core of Greta’s particularly nutty frenzy? Jordan refuses to psychoanalyze and only infers answers. The film positions her as an omniscient and unstoppable force that is nostalgic for a time when domesticity could mask the destructive power dynamics between abusive parents and their children. Fables have a way of revealing the nightmarish implications of utopian façades, and Greta does exactly that.
Dann Gire, Chicago Daily Herald
Sometimes, a greasy cheeseburger hits the spot. Nothing high quality. Nothing particularly good for you. Nothing fancy. Just a cheeseburger.
Neil Jordan's "Greta" qualifies as the cheeseburgeriest thriller I've seen since 2018's "The Strangers: Prey at Night."
It won't win Oscars, unless the Academy approves categories for "Best Performance of a Dim Detective" or "Best Screenplay With More Holes Than a Machine Gun Target."
This long-fused thriller sneaks up on you. Just when you think it can't get slower or more boring, it attacks!
A sudden burst of playful suspense awkwardly inverts genre cliches, carefully avoiding the butcher knives, cheap jump-scares and heroes-resorting-to-savagery expectations in R-rated stalker films.
Instead, "Greta" (written by Jordan with Ray Wright) tries to out-DePalma Brian DePalma, especially with a daring twist on the obligatory dream sequence.
Even if these reworked devices don't quite work, thriller fans should appreciate the persistent attempts.
Courageously accomplished French actress Isabelle Huppert, never one to shy away from odd or challenging characters, plays Greta with full-throttle relish, fitting for a cheeseburgery performance where she emotionally simmers for a long, long time before flipping out.