Irish co-writer/director Neil Jordan’s first feature film in six years is a derivative and at times ludicrous psychodrama.
Jordan, whose most famous film remains The Crying Game, is rarely kind to women onscreen, which is why it’s so strange that the very best actresses (Miranda Richardson, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan and others) line up to work with him and have their characters treated horribly.
Here young, Atlanta-born near-star Chloë Grace Moretz joins prestige French player Isabelle Huppert, who rarely makes movies outside Europe – and rarely allows herself to seriously ham it up, even in extreme films like Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher.
Frances McCullen (Chloë) lives in a very movie-like Manhattan, is trying hard to get over the death of her mother a year before, and dearly wants to do the right thing in a town that doesn’t care much. When she finds a fancy handbag on the subway, she decides not to steal the contents but instead take it to the home of owner Greta Hideg (Isabelle), who charms her with a little Liszt on the piano, some fancy French talk and the little fact that she’s virtually begging to be Frances’ proxy Mom. Huppert is quite restrained in these early scenes and amps up her apparent unease with English, something that will become important later on, once she well and truly flips her lid.
After an initial period of joining Greta for dinner and helping her buy a sad old Irish wolfhound (Jordan’s stand-in?) as a pet, Frances makes a creepy discovery and attempts to remove herself from Greta’s life – but Greta isn’t letting go without a fight. And that’s hardly a spoiler, as so much of this is lengthily, and needlessly, given away in the trailer.
With horror-movie trimmings (even though Jordan and Co would never admit to it), glimmers of Takashi Miike’s nastier Audition, leaps in logic and plotholes aplenty, this has a good performance from Maika Monroe (of It Follows) as Frances’ bestie Erica Penn and Stephen Rea (Jordan’s favourite actor) at his rumpled, baggy-eyed best as detective Brian Cody. But, really, it’s all about Chloë and Isabelle – although, then again, it’s mainly about Isabelle (the movie is named after her loopy character, after all).
And has the prolific Madame Huppert ever been so unleashed and unhinged? She has tried some darker material in recent years (like Paul Verhoeven’s Elle) but primarily she’s best-known for quiet, thoughtful performances in French dramas about getting on a bit (like the pleasing Things To Come/L’Avenir). Therefore it is rather shocking and even dismaying to watch her going completely crazy, prancing about like a barking-mad ballerina and wholeheartedly buying into the un-PC ‘Hag Movie’ subgenre (think Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? – if you can).
Greta (MA) is in cinemas now