Monday, August 19, 2019

Shoulda Been Beta

Between The Company of Wolves, Interview With a Vampire, and Byzantium, Neil Jordan has always been a special filmmaker to the horror genre, and one with an interesting hand when it comes to women (okay, maybe subtract the incredibly male and even more incredibly erotic Interview from that list, but the other two are very much about their leads' gender). Even with the hugely negative critical reaction to 2018's Greta, I couldn't quite give up on it being something worth a watch. 


Quick Plot: Frances is slowly getting over the death of her mother, healing herself through the power of waitressing in a high-end restaurant and hanging out with her ridiculously wealthy roommate Erica (It Follows' Maika Monroe), whose father splurged for a loft in "New York City."

Let's get the first (of unfortunately, many) complaint out of the way: Greta's landscape looks about as Manhattan as a Hallmark Christmas movie. If my subways were half as clean as the oddly logo'd 6 train in this movie, I'd be using it to host mobile dinner parties.

Anyway, Frances is a nice girl from Boston, apparently too good-hearted for the big bad dangers of Irish York. One day, she spots an expensive purse abandoned on a pristine bucket seat. She promptly returns it to its owner, our titular French pianist (who might actually be the same damaged woman Huppert played in The Piano Teacher) who's so charmed by Frances's good deed that the pair become instant besties. 

Frances is obviously seeking a mother, and with her homemade sauce and sad widowhood, why wouldn't Greta fit the bill? If you've seen the trailer, you know that very quickly (within the 40 minute mark) Frances discovers that this ain't Greta's first time at the befriend-a-young-woman-with-good-handbag-taste rodeo. 

At first, Greta tries to win back the terrified Frances with phone calls and visits, standing like a performance artist in the street to watch her young friend as she waits tables in terror. It doesn't take long for Greta to reveal herself to be faster than The Flash and more durable than Michael Michaels. Also, she can teleport like the Leprechaun.

There is a point in this movie where the only earthbound explanation for Greta's ability to stalk Erica is that there are actually eight Gretas. Folks, I would have sent a check to Neil Jordan if this movie had a twist that involved evil twins or quintuplets. 

Sadly, there's apparently nothing supernatural about a Hungarian widow pretending for no explained reason to be French. Except, you know, the scene where she stalks Erica in an alleyway, sending pictures to Francine at every possible angle and, I kid you not, somehow--IT'S NEVER EXPLAINED AND IT'S MY NEW OBSESSION--ending up sitting smugly on the very bus that Erica hastily hops on to escape the Greta who was...following her. 


Don't worry: the movie certainly doesn't.

Look, based on every single professional and amateur review I'd seen of Greta, I did not expect a quality film. That being said, I did know that I was getting one of the genre's most interesting filmmakers directing one of the world's best living actresses in a juicy role. Surely, SURELY I guessed Greta would have its charms. 

What's so damn disappointing about Greta is how lacking it is in fun. Frances is a complete dud. We know Chloe Moretz can be a fiery performer, but the script's insistence on her character being sweet without giving her an ounce of snazz makes her painfully dull to watch, and pretty impossible to root for. The fact that is a recent college graduate enjoying a life of leisure in a million dollar loft doesn't even let us feel some natural sympathy for her. How hard would it have been to tweak her situation just enough to make her an actual underdog? WE ALL LOVE UNDERDOGS.

And come on: we all would kill for secret Isabelle Huppert triplets.

High Points
This is the kind of movie that has Vivaldi's Four Seasons playing at crescendo when Isabelle Huppert throws a table-clearing tantrum in a fancy restaurant. It's impossible not to feel somewhat giddy at that kind of moment

Low Points
And yet--AND YET DESPITE ISABELLE HUPPERT SMASHING WINE GLASSES--Greta is such a messy, aimless, energy-less movie that it's nearly impossible to find any satisfaction from its run time

Lessons Learned
People from Boston return expensive handbags; people from Manhattan call the bomb squad

The crazier they are, the harder they cling

The only thing less effective in solving crime than the NYC police department is Stephen Rea in a cameo

Dog Alert
I watched Greta on a plane and therefore lacked access to the invaluable "Does the Dog Die(.com)" information I needed, but if you couldn't guess that the sweet schnauzer mutt Greta brings home at Frances's urging would meet a tragic end, then let me sell you a bridge

I never thought I'd discourage anyone from seeing a movie wherein Isabelle Huppert spits gum into another woman's hair, but darn it: Greta is a slog. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a good feature-length set of deleted scenes and alternate endings, because there is so much plain sloppiness in its storytelling that I simply have to believe there were problems offscreen. 

Don't we all.

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