“I DESERVE BETTER!” screams Isabelle Huppert, Academy Award nominee and actress in over 130 films since the ’70s, as she chucks a glass of high-class French wine at a hapless Chloe Grace Moretz. Have I sold you on Greta yet? No? May I interest you in that there is a diatribe between Chloe and It Follows star Maika Monroe about not wanting asparagus juice inserted into their butts during a spa day? Still no? If not, there may not be any hope for you. Greta is a slap in the face to the idea that films released early in the year all have to be trash; Greta is whole different trash altogether.
The film stars two of the most unlikely leads to play off each other in quite some time but ends up being a match made in heaven. Renowned world cinema star Isabelle Huppert, with a career that spans almost fifty years, lends her classic charisma to the role of Greta Hedig, a lonely widow that lives in the tucked away corners of Tribeca. She seems to have lost a bag on the subway, picked up by Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz in a career-best performance). Frances is compassionate to a fault and more than a little naive, which leads her to track Greta down and return her handbag to her. What follows in the first quarter is a domestic drama shot with an intimacy that comes very, very close to getting you to let your guard down. Greta teaches Frances the piano and how to cook French recipes. Before long, the companionship grows to a point where Greta feels she can confide in Frances over her very troubled and very isolated life, to which Frances can empathize. But then one day, Greta asks Frances to fetch a kitchen utensil, where Frances makes a discovery in the house that launches the film into a campy fairy tale for the ages. To say more plot-wise would be a crime.
A trend in recent years has been the rise of “arthouse trash” or “highbrow exploitation”. In the vein of 2016’s The Neon Demon and 2017’s Revenge, Greta eventually comes to play out like an exploitation romp that would’ve been a hit on 42nd Street in New York City during the exploitation craze, but through the lens of a director who feels the filmmaking should be more “respectable”. Neil Jordans’ first film since 2012 is one of the most entertaining marriages between the hilarious and the scary in recent memory, self-aware without any eye-rolling wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments, and Isabelle Huppert’s obsession and rising rivalry with Moretz reaches such an absurdity by the third act that the movie scoffs at hiding behind any veil it was previously wearing in the beginning.
I wish there were moments in my life where I could say I had just as much fun as Isabelle Huppert had when she gave this performance. Her character here shares more than a little similarity to her The Piano Teacher counterpart Erika Kohut. Both are emotionally repressed, in extreme need of counseling, both possess a wave of hidden, dangerous anger, and they like the piano. But Greta lacks any of the sympathetic or relatable qualities Erika had, for which there are many. In the films best moments, Greta herself acts as a kind of force of nature, less of a human being that Frances must battle but rather a concept or a storybook monster itself. All the hidden malice that Isabelle Huppert can evoke in any of her other films is given full exposure here, and the results are just as brain-melting as you can imagine. Chloe Grace Moretz proves to be a worthy foil, giving her best fairy tale princess performance, one that wouldn’t be too out of place in something like Alice in Wonderland. Her natural sense to do the right thing, a gung-ho need to help what she perceives to be the less fortunate comes into the predatory view of Greta, and the conflict between them is legitimately riveting for emotional reasons I won’t spoil.
Greta will be an interesting sell on mainstream audiences during its theatrical run, but there is an undeniable cult status that is beckoning the film to home video/streaming stardom. There’s something for everyone in Greta; to laugh, to cry, to scream, and to watch Isabelle Huppert spit gum into someone’s hair. Just don’t pick up any wandering Louis Vuitton handbags lying around anytime soon
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