The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s review of “Greta,” click here.
I have given hugs I didn’t want to give. I’ve dodged kisses by doing that last-minute swerve that offers my cheek instead of my lips. I’ve endured questions about whether my hair color is natural, delivered in a tone that made clear that the man asking them wasn’t interested in contacting my stylist. I have smiled when guys on the street have told me to. I’ve done all those things because I was trying to be nice.
Nice can get you into trouble, and that’s what “Greta” is about.
In the wildly uneven yet adequately compelling story, Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) finds a purse on the subway and, in clear violation of the “see something, say something” way of our brave new world, looks through it, finds the address of the owner and returns it to Greta (Isabelle Huppert). Greta invites Frances in for coffee, and she accepts — though every woman in the audience can read in her face and body that she doesn’t want to. Still, to be nice, she does. Over time, the relationship deepens, largely due to shared losses: Frances’ mother has recently died and Greta is a widow with a daughter living in Paris. Eventually, Greta becomes obsessed with Frances and things go pretty much off the rails at that point, both in terms of their relationship and the film itself.
Now, why is Frances in this mess? Well, first and foremost it’s because Greta is a woman with a mental illness. Greta’s obsession with Frances is none of Frances’ responsibility, yet Frances gives Greta access to her because she feels she has to be nice. Returning the purse is nice. Going in for coffee is nice. Sidestepping Greta’s frantically increasing number of calls rather than blocking the number is nice. It’s interesting that both characters here are women — in my experience, women being nice in uncomfortable situations mostly happens around men — but the underlying understanding still is that a young woman saying, “No, I don’t want that” is rude. And women shouldn’t be rude.
“Greta” is beautifully shot and mostly well-acted, particularly by Huppert, who manages to pull off a performance we can safely call “psycho chic.” It’s also stunningly stupid at times, with twists — sorry, “twists” — that are as predictable as delays on the Red Line. What it does best is show, albeit with an extreme example, how women often keep their gut feelings way down in their guts because it wouldn’t be nice to act on them. Being nice is, in general, good — being nice at the expense of one’s own emotional, mental and physical comfort is a burden many women are far too used to carrying.
By the way, I’m 42 now. I care a lot less about being nice to people I don’t care about. Turns out it’s a great way to be nice to myself.
For more movie musings, follow Kristen on Twitter: @kpagekirby