Isabelle Huppert is one of the most prolific and decorated actors of all time. Two Cannes Film Festival Best Actress wins, 16 César nominations, countless international honors (and one measly Oscar nomination, which really only reaffirms the Academy’s irrelevancy and bad taste). This French actress is iconic for her peculiar Mona Lisa smile, icy demeanor, and track record of sexually deranged roles. In Neil Jordan’s Greta, Huppert doesn’t exactly re-emerge as an awards contender, far from it. Instead, she shifts gears and channels the playful elements of her persona in a silly, sadistic B-movie ripped straight out of the 90s. Greta is not high art, but that in itself is not a bad thing. While the film is rather meaningless, with undeveloped subplots and slight characterization, a hearty serving of intentional and unintentional ridiculousness should manage to strike the nerves or induce belly laughs.
Chloë Grace Moretz plays Frances, a young woman who works as a waitress and lives in her rich best friend’s stupidly amazing loft in Manhattan. It’s been a year since her mother died, and Frances still struggles with the loss, opting for low-key activities and staying in. Her roomie Erica (Maika Monroe from It Follows) tries to rope her into going to parties and having a more active social life. When Frances finds a missing purse on the subway that belongs to an older woman, she takes it upon herself to hand deliver the bag like the good girl she is. Greta (Huppert) lives alone and easily charms the mousy Frances with her cute accent, grand piano, and cell phone ineptitude, so the two strike a quaint friendship of walks in the park and recipe sharing. Jordan doesn’t really bother with much character development, and the pleasant phase of the women’s relationship doesn’t last for more than a few short scenes before Frances realizes Greta isn’t who she claims to be.
The rest of the film escalates as would any typical stalker thriller, with Frances growing increasingly paranoid of Greta’s appearance, and rightfully so. Greta fills up Frances’ cell phone with an insane number of voicemails and texts, shows up on the subway, outside of work, at her apartment. These appearances are hard to take seriously, and you’ll find yourself mostly laughing at the menace of Huppert’s petite figure popping up seemingly everywhere. Hacky dialogue is also an acute reminder of the film’s half-assed narrative efforts.
The first act might honestly make you consider the film as a questionable use of time. But as Greta’s violent potential makes itself known – a wad of gum spat into Frances’ hair, Greta snapping pictures of a disturbed Erica as she’s chased through the city – the film locks into place as a vehicle for a delightfully deranged Huppert performance. Posing in plain sight as an innocent older woman, Greta’s sophisticated mannerisms prove deliciously dissonant with her more unsavory inclinations. A scene involving a little ballet dance, a needle, and a dead body will go down as the film’s most memorable moment.
As the naive Frances, Moretz bears the requisite physical features to pull off her character’s doe-eyed desperation, but the actress’s earnest performance unsettles the film’s dominant mode of camp. Initially, Maika Monroe would appear to be playing the role of the flirty, superficial friend that winds up dead. But Erica comes off as more in sync with the script’s sprightly demands, and Monroe’s crowd-pleasing, performance ultimately overshadows Moretz.
Neil Jordan will forever have a place in my heart for his 1994 gothic horror film Interview with the Vampire; a similar sensibility – a grandiose classical score, playful sadism, and a villain with more charisma than the victim – emerge as Greta’s best traits. Greta is essential viewing for any diehard Isabelle Huppert fans, who will delight in the built-in references the film makes to the actress’s most famous roles (The Piano Teacher, anyone?). But without Huppert, I can’t imagine Greta being more than a minor, and ultimately mediocre reinvention of the stalker movie.