If you found a handbag left behind on a subway train, would you pick it up and try to find its owner? Certainly, in Hong Kong, where people accidentally leave their mobile phones, wallets and sometimes even their children (true story!) on trains and in taxis on a daily basis, most of us probably would try to return the item to its owner or perhaps get the police involved. For one good Samaritan in New York though, returning a handbag to its owner has dire consequences in GRETA, the latest film by Oscar-winning director and co-writer Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME).
Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz, SUSPIRIA (2018); THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST; CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA) is a recent college grad from Boston who works as a waitress at an upscale New York bistro and shares a flat with her best friend, Erica (Maika Monroe, IT FOLLOWS). After finding a classy handbag on the subway, Frances tracks down its owner, Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert, ELLE), a French widow who lives in a quaint, Brooklyn townhouse. Greta is thrilled to have the purse and all its contents back, and she is grateful to the young woman. As the two get to know each other, Greta learns that Frances recently lost her mother and still misses her terribly while Frances learns that Greta’s daughter, Nicole, who is around the same age as Frances, has gone off to Paris to study music leaving her mother all alone in the big city. The lonely women begin a friendship but it all comes to a screeching halt when Frances realises that Greta isn’t the person she pretends to be. Greta, however, won’t let her new friend run off so easily.
For the most part, GRETA follows a fairly worn path that better films like SINGLE WHITE FEMALE and FATAL ATTRACTION have blazed before, but it does have some good twists and turns in the second and third acts including a dream sequence that will leave audiences unsure (for a few minutes, at any rate) of what’s real and what’s imagined. The best thing about GRETA is the wonderfully camp performance from Huppert in one of her few English-speaking roles, though her transition from sweet, middle-aged, piano teacher to creepy stalker to full-on crazy lady could have benefitted from more exposition. Both Moretz and Monroe do decent work here given what they’ve got which unfortunately isn’t much, though they fare much better than the film’s two leading men, Colm Feore (TV’s HOUSE OF CARDS) and Jordan alumnus Stephen Rea (THE CRYING GAME), whose characters are both essentially neutered by the underdeveloped writing. Frances, for her part, seems too naïve for 2018 New York. Why she doesn’t just block Greta’s calls from her mobile phone and disconnect her and Erica’s landline is anyone’s guess. We can also wonder why she doesn’t make better use of Greta’s kitchen implements when trying to get away. Both writing choices make the story more predictable and the characters’ actions less desperate. But given Huppert’s performance, was Jordan trying to make a camp psychological thriller or a serious one? I’m not sure.
Even with its writing faults though, GRETA is still a better-than-average entry in this genre. Check it out but don’t go into the cinema with high expectations.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, May 24th at 8:30 am HK time!
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