No Good Deed Goes Unpunished in Greta

Ten years ago, I found an address book in a New York City cab. (This was before we began to store our contacts in our cellphones.) The owner’s name was missing, but inside were the names and phone numbers for dozens of A-list celebrities, including Sylvester Stallone. I knew whoever owned the book would want it back, so I called one of the non-celebrity names listed, who identified the owner as a well known writer. I left the address book with my doorman and the writer picked it up. A few days later, I received a beautiful floral arrangement and a lovely thank you note. 

Frances McCullen’s experience as a good Samaritan doesn’t turn out as well. When Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) receives flowers from Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), those lilies are not a friendly gesture, but a threat. Frances’ nightmare begins when she finds a green leather purse on the subway and, over the objections of her roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe), decides to return it to Greta, the owner. (Note: since 9/11, most people, particularly New Yorkers, heeding the admonition, “see something, say something,” would not pick up even an expensive looking purse, for fear of what is inside.)

Chloë Grace Moretz (Credit: Shane Mahood /Focus Features)

Greta seems thankful and gracious when Frances turns up with the purse. She invites Frances in for coffee. Greta seems lonely; she lives alone, but has photos of her dead husband, her daughter, who she says is in Paris, and her granddaughter, lovingly displayed. She tells Frances she’s a piano teacher and plays some Liszt. When loud banging from the wall behind her piano threatens to interrupt the music, Greta apologizes for the construction going on next door. 

Frances’ mother died a year ago, and she’s been angry with her father (Colm Feore) who no longer seems to be grieving. She recently moved to New York from Boston and understands Greta’s loneliness. Giving Greta her phone number, she offers to help Greta adopt a dog. Days later, they visit a shelter, and Greta leaves with a large, sad looking, gray dog that is in danger of being put down.

Isabelle Huppert  and Chloë Grace Moretz  (Credit: Jonathan Hession /Focus Features)

When Frances decides to have dinner with Greta rather than attending a party being given by Erica’s friends, Erica begins to question her roommate’s fascination with the older woman. Erica suggests Greta represents a mother figure, and Frances angrily stomps out. But while helping Greta to set the table for dinner, Frances comes upon a cabinet containing several more green purses, each labeled with the name and telephone number of another woman. She freaks out, telling Greta she feels ill and hastily leaves. When she gets home, Frances tells Erica what she has found, and they agree she should avoid any further contact with Greta.

Easier said than done. Greta begins calling dozens of times a day and then shows up outside the restaurant where Frances works. When Frances reports Greta’s stalking to the police, an officer says there’s nothing that can be done. Greta refuses to give up, however, and another visit to the restaurant turns violent and ends up with Greta being committed. Before too long, however, she’s released and Frances’ situation takes a turn for the worst. 

Maika Monroe and Colm Feore (Credit: Jonathan Hession /Focus Features)

Director Neil Jordan, who wrote the screenplay with Ray Wright, delivers a thriller with a few pulse-pounding moments. Hubbert’s refined appearance and charming French accent make Greta a convincing and terrifying presence. Her slight form belies a strong force, particularly when she’s threatened. Audiences who aren’t familiar with this experienced actress’ impressive resume will perhaps be motivated to search for her other films on Netflix. Moretz conveys the horror anyone would feel when being stalked by someone determined to cause harm. Her facial expressions, particularly when she finds Greta sitting in her station at the restaurant, are unforgettable. As Erica, Monroe is terrific, not only providing some comic relief, but also capturing the typical New Yorker whose cynicism leads to question everything. In retrospect, Erica’s advice – keep the purse – may have seemed callous, but was the way to go.

Top: Chloë Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert 
Credit: Jonathan Hession /Focus Features

About Charlene Giannetti (312 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines including the New York Times. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her new book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "1Life After You," focusing on the opioid crisis that will be filmed in 2019. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.