Awards season has ended, and thank goodness for that. It seems to drag on longer every year, and 2018's was an especially grueling and highly contentious one. Now finally, we get a break from serious examinations of real-world issues, as studios unleash their more modest, less ambitious output. Case in point: the very silly stalker thriller "Greta," from director Neil Jordan ("Interview with the Vampire").
The film stars Chloë Grace Moretz as Frances, a waitress at a swanky New York City restaurant and fresh transplant to the city. On her way home from work one evening, she finds an expensive looking handbag abandoned in a subway car. A good Samaritan, Frances takes it upon herself to return it, despite being warned against such actions by her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe, "It Follows"). The owner of the purse turns out to be a sweet, lonely Brooklyn widow named Greta (legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert), who is exceedingly grateful. She invites Frances in for tea, and they exchange numbers before making plans to get together again.
The two women soon strike up a friendship. Both are lonely, finding that the other's presence fills a void in their lives. Frances is still grieving her recently deceased mother, while Greta is missing her daughter, who now lives abroad. But it isn't long before Greta's pleasant nature starts to slip, revealing more sinister motives.
Huppert's presence and Jordan's direction lend an air of class to what's otherwise a descendant of trashy 90's psychodramas in the vein of "Single White Female" and "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle." He doesn't reinvent the wheel, but the script (written by Jordan and Ray Wright) subverts expectations when it can. It's a bit campy, though in a knowing, winking way that occasionally undercuts some of the fun. Still, you get to watch Isabelle Huppert flip a table, and that's really worth the ticket price on its own.
There are nods to more serious themes of motherhood and loneliness, but Jordan's film is unpretentious in its aims. "Greta" embraces its ridiculousness, and it's funny far more often than it is truly frightening. The characters do some dumb things, and the film requires some suspension of disbelief while we wait for things to really get nuts, as Greta's truly unhinged nature reveals itself.
That doesn't really happen until the final act, when the film turns into the type of movie where the audience can't help but get vocal, screaming advice to the characters on screen (and based on my experience at the theater, they will). It's only then that the film reaches its full potential.
Moretz is nothing if not committed, acting as a suitably terrified damsel in distress. But she can't help being far outmatched by her co-star. She's a gifted actress, hampered somewhat here by playing such a thinly drawn character.
But the reason to see the film is Huppert's deliciously looney performance. She's appropriately warm early on, then more unnerving as she taps into her more familiar, slightly chilly screen demeanor. The actress is clearly having a grand time playing up the dark comedy of the premise. She's fabulous enough that you start to think being the object of Huppert's obsessive attention might actually be pretty fantastic.
There's fun to be had in seeing an actress of Huppert's stature dive headfirst into this material, but a sharper script and more developed characters could have helped the film transcend its genre origins. The brief running time ensures it doesn't overstay its welcome, and there's something to be said for a skillfully-made, tightly-constructed B-movie. No one's going to mistake it for high art, but with a game cast and Jordan's slick direction, it makes for a satisfying meal, even if it's mostly empty calories.