Greta’s tired tropes made unsalvageable by impressive performances

Two women cook in a kitchen and one holds a spoon up to the other's mouth.
Widow Movie LLC/Courtesy

Related Posts

Grade: 2.0/5.0

“Greta” is the story of an obsessive woman, a motherless do-gooder and a general misunderstanding of how real people actually operate.

To start, “Greta” opens on the dreaded subway, the harbinger of main character Frances’ (Chloë Grace Moretz) doom. The film’s premise centers around Frances finding and returning a bag she finds on the subway which, given most public transit commuters’ dispositions, already creates a mountainous demand from the viewers to suspend their disbelief. The film wastes little time getting into the thick of it, but much of the action feels like a general checklist, never revealing anything of consequence. While the film dives right into the story, it still renders itself forgettable from the get-go.

There is a notable absence of substance in the film, likely a result of cutting crucial corners in story development. The film attempts mysterious evasiveness, but falls short, landing more in the realm of vague carelessness. And just when the film’s cagey behavior around giving any exposition becomes too much to bear, seemingly superfluous characters arrive to serve up a too-neat platter of too-in-your face clarification.

In critical moments, the film works to create drama and intrigue — but instead undermines any suspense that it attempts to set up through rash and abrupt plot turns. A lack of unique identity plagues the film, casting a dense air of disbelief on much of its own motivation. Nothing feels authentic or believable, and every line feels like something you’ve heard a thousand times before.

At every turn the film reveals an inability to speak for itself, even as it becomes haltingly obvious that it has nothing interesting to say.

“Greta” banks on contrived and dated conventions surrounding how women behave, and in the few moments it tries to defy those standards, it backs itself into a drab and insipid corner of clichés. As the source of the endearing and (almost) unconditional friendship Frances strikes up with Greta, we find Frances’ inability to overcome her own mother’s death. Never mind that little to nothing is revealed about Greta that would provide fodder for any kind of motivation behind her malevolent antics.

Most of the problems with the film lie not within its performances, but in its characters. Given the premise, the fact that the cast is almost exclusively female offers a lot of potential. Yet, every woman becomes relegated to stock character tropes: Frances’ goody-two-shoes newcomer, Erica’s (Maika Monroe) bratty, entitled best friend and Greta’s (Isabelle Huppert) insidiously friendly, lonely old woman. It is within the actors that the film finds its redemption, but their performances can only take the film so far.

One saving grace, within the entire hour and 38 minutes of the film’s runtime, is found in Huppert’s eerie take on the obsessive mother. Huppert’s entry in the world of onscreen horrific mothers would have been interesting if not for practically everything else about the film. Huppert brings intricate moments of detail to the character — a series of paradoxes caged in a small unassuming threat. She is charismatic and a terror, gentle and ruthless. Huppert’s obsessive madwoman is a treat that far exceeds the film. But, her seasoned grace isn’t enough to cure the drivel that rots this film from the inside out.

As the film descends into madness and absurdity it, at the very least, seems to acknowledge how ridiculous it is. Its tension becomes campier by the minute. More than once moviegoers rallied at the absurdity of it all with comical exasperation. And its resolution, one of the few moments we see “Greta” use the traps it sets up, is so inconceivable that it makes you kind of hope for a sequel. Had the film only leaned into its sillier constructs, perhaps there would be more to celebrate.

“Greta” is currently playing at Landmark’s California Theatre.

Contact Areyon Jolivette at [email protected].