Hilary Duff is endeavoring to stretch as an actress, but I’m not convinced the drama “According to Greta” gets the job done for her. The former tween queen takes the reins on a harsh character that’s exceptionally self-centered, suicidal, and brimming with mall chick wiseacrery -- a definite change of pace for a star desperate to smother her previous bubble gum professional choices. However, “According to Greta” is a melodrama and a labored one at that, entertaining far too much tiresome formula, making the whole enterprise feel like an extended television pilot, or perhaps a fiendish “Georgia Rule” sequel.
Greta (Hilary Duff) is a sass-mouthed, profoundly depressed young woman sent to live with her grandparents, Katherine (Ellen Burstyn) and Joseph (Michael Murphy), in the small New Jersey town of Ocean Grove while her mother works on her umpteenth marriage. A belligerent girl, Greta loathes the living arrangement, trying to pass the time with a part-time job as an irascible waitress, hoping to cap off this brutal coming-of-age summer with a poetic suicide. Instead of doom, Greta starts to learn about herself through tough love from her grandparents, along with a romantic attraction to line cook Julie (Evan Ross, raspy and surprisingly unpleasant).
Hilary Duff as a chirpy badass is a difficult image to swallow. The heavy eyeliner helps, as does the general tough girl stomp she shows off in “According to Greta,” but after all the apple-cheeked roles she’s played, watching Duff attempt to depict a hard-edged, unloved hellion takes some getting used to. She pulls it off in a few of the prime freak out sequences, but it’s ultimately the filmmaking that lets down “According to Greta,” not Duff.
Director Nancy Bardawil is aiming to craft a motion picture that matches the volatile, crudely written diary kept by Greta -- a tonal Grand Canyon jump that needs far more nutrition than the flashes of scribbled animation and intrusive indie soundtrack is able to provide. As Greta checks off events on a to-do list of accomplishments she’s working on for the summer (e.g. learn languages, lose virginity), Bardawil botches the juggling game, crudely leading the character through the hoariest of dramatic clichés to make a lasting point of teen deliverance. The predictability of it all isn’t the problem, it’s the way Bardawil refuses to challenge the material beyond pedestrian ideas. She refuses to hunt for any possible way to subvert the norm and impart “According to Greta” with a riveting cinematic personality.
Daddy issues, senior citizen medical happenstance, and relationship woes fill in the third act of “According to Greta,” putting further unnecessary weight on the production. I wanted to embrace the film as an opportunity for Duff to continue distancing herself away from her Disney roots, but the writing is terrible, the direction blind, and the supporting cast either tuned out or overwhelmed from the get-go. “According to Greta” misfires when it should’ve soared, and while Hilary Duff gives the role a forceful middle-finger twinkle, it’s wasted on unsophisticated ABC Family leftovers.