GRETA (dir. Neil Jordan): Film review

The trailer for Greta is hopeful. Not in tone, of course, because Greta is very evidently about a woman becoming obsessed with another woman. But that there are two women in it at all who aren’t mother and daughter, or who aren’t relating to each other in a way that would disgrace the Bechdel Test, is hopeful. Another woman plays a hefty supporting role, and with very few men in sight, it’s tempting to believe that Greta is an example of progress being made in movie representation.

But why wouldn’t Greta work as a story about a young man who lost is father befriending a lonely older man? Is it because men presumably don’t connect on the same level as women? Or because the threat of a man stalking another man gives off more sinister connotations? Are men more violent? Would it be too gay?

So why women? Why do these women need each other? Why do women need each other at all? It’s not that writers Neil Jordan and Ray Wright were required to answer these questions in order to make this movie, but it may have helped if it even crossed their minds. Because without the consideration of why they’re placing women into these roles, even with moments of strong Misery and Single White Female vibes, Greta feels like a gimmick.

I say women were “placed” in these roles when what I really mean is “stuffed.” Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a Good Girl who befriends the Lonely, Old Greta (Isabelle Huppert) because she enjoys being Good and also her mom died. Greta appears to have no other friends or family in the world, and Frances has only one other friend in Erica (Maika Monroe), a Young Hip City Gal who’s just Wild enough to balance out Frances’s Good. These are their defining characteristics, which are ultimately their only characteristics. Even when we learn that Greta is not entirely who she says she is, her villainy is of one-note desperation.

Chloe Grace Moretz in Greta
Chloe Grace Moretz in Greta

Gimmickry can be fun. Especially within the horror and thriller genres, playing around with world-building can up the stakes in exciting ways. The problem with Greta is that it doesn’t just bend reality to adhere to expected conventions, it snaps reality in half. One scene in particular, in which Erica is being stalked by Greta out of a nightclub and into an empty alleyway, pushes the boundaries of what is believable to such absurd lengths that it passes right by comical and into downright distasteful. This alleyway that Erica escapes into is about twenty feet across with little obstructions, and yet Erica can’t see Greta about five feet behind her.

I’d say “for some reason” Erica can’t see Greta behind her, but the reason is because the writers don’t want us to. Because if we did see Greta behind Erica they wouldn’t have a film to watch because their creation is so flimsy it doesn’t stand up to the literal sense of sight. Too often Greta falls into pits of its own making, wherein people say and do things that only someone on paper would say or do. This is a world that only exists because the writers say it does.

With no motives and even less logic, Greta is a fantasy. An absurd, convoluted mess of a fantasy that belongs only in the heads of its writers. It tortures Good Girl Frances to no conceivable end other than to torture. It makes Greta a Villain with no motive other than mental illness. It makes Erica a vapid Side-Kick whose lazy laugh lines and Deus ex Machina performance art unfairly steal the show. These are one-dimensional characters performing one-dimensional, half-assed work.

I wish I could say that Greta was written by two men who don’t know how women speak, but that would be giving them too much credit, because that would assume that they at least know how men speak. But this stilted dialogue full of tired platitudes shows there’s little evidence to believe even that.

These women are so boring it’s offensive. It’s offensive to imagine two men trying so ardently and so poorly to guess how young women speak and behave. To place these women in scenarios that make them look naïve or pitiful or just stupid could only be the fantasy of men, because women couldn’t possibly write a protagonist who goes through all that Frances goes through and not let her save herself in the end. The women of Greta weren’t created to fight. They were created to scream and cry and cower. Greta is hopeless.

Opens nationwide March 1, 2019, and in Philadelphia at Ritz East and elsewhere.

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