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According to Greta
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Greta's a trip, but she's no vacation. She's sixteen, bright, beautiful, and seriously rebellious, full of sarcastic wit that barely disguises her hurt inside. Pushed aside by her mother, Karen, Greta is shipped off to her grandparents for the summer, and she's not happy about it. In fact, she fully intends to kill herself before the summer is over and is currently compiling a notebook of suicide methods. Acerbic, yet willingly impulsive, Greta is a stunning force of nature, disrupting her grandparents' staid and settled lives and the Jersey Shore community they live in as well. But a near catastrophe gives Greta a wake-up call and demonstrates how deeply her own actions impact those around her. Greta's growing love for her elderly grandparents, along with the excitement of her first summer romance, gradually strips away her defenses, revealing the promising, charismatic young woman underneath her shell.
Many movies explore the difficulties of growing up, but few are as powerful and as moving as According to Greta. Hilary Duff is impressively strong as the title character, a 17-year-old who's trying to figure out who she wants to be, or if she wants to be, while grappling with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and a rocky family life. Her mother (Melissa Leo) has had multiple husbands, and her father, whom she doesn't remember, committed suicide when she was very young. Greta's mother doesn't know what to do with her and wants to work on saving her third marriage, so she ships Greta off to stay with her Gram (Ellen Burstyn) and Gramps (Michael Murphy) in the sleepy retirement town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, for the summer. Greta is angry, resentful, and spiteful, and she makes no secret of exactly how she's feeling. She views her imprisonment in the town as a death sentence, and it may literally be. In her journal, Greta keeps two lists: one of things she wants to do before she dies and one of suicide methods. Greta's grandparents both try, in their own ways, to get through to their granddaughter, but she is depressed, determined to push others away, and obstinately obnoxious. Greta meets Julie (Evan Ross), an African-American teenager who was once in juvenile detention is now a line cook with dreams of becoming a chef, and the two are extremely attracted to one another. Julie is wise beyond his years, having learned not only to accept responsibility for his own actions, but to act in a manner that will consistently further his ambitions. Just when it appears that Greta's relationship with Julie may inspire some maturation on her part, Greta does something that will heavily impact the lives of everyone close to her. Will she get a chance to realize that her actions dramatically affect the people around her and that age and experience bring valuable perspective? Few movies have the guts and insight to tackle teen suicide in a way that so realistically captures the intense emotional struggle involved in growing up and learning to respect and love oneself. Both teens and adults should make a point of seeing According to Greta. --Tami Horiuchi
Stills from According to Greta (Click for larger image)
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Duff stars as an annoying, rebellious, and bipolar (?) teenager. After her mom grows weary of her antics, she gets sent to New Jersey to spend the summer with her grandparents (BTW: I loved all of the snide remarks about Jersey, especially considering the fact that I work there...). She acts disrespectful to them. Her grandpa, who's somewhat of a pushover, tolerates it while her grandma isn't having that (If I talked that way to my parents or grandparents then they'd take a belt and whoop my behind).
Greta got a job as a waitress and mouthed off to her customers (I'm seriously perplexed as to why she wasn't fired). While at the restaurant, she met Julie (I never heard of a guy named Julie- that's a female name). Julie, who spent time in juvie, was a little rough around the edges. After he becomes aware of her plan to commit suicide, he tried to talk her out of it. A funny scene was when Greta introduced Julie to her grandparents. Even before she knew that Julie was an ex-con, it was clear that her grandma was apprehensive of a black male.
After a stunt in which Greta pretends to attempt suicide, her grandma suffered a heart attack. Then, her mom arrived and threatened to send her to boot camp. It was later revealed that Greta was acting out because she misses her dad, who tragically took his own life. She also wanted to commit suicide since she was afraid of getting old and wanted to live life to the fullest while she was young. Furthermore, her mom has animosity towards her grandparents due to the fact that they kicked her out of the house for abusing drugs.
This is definitely an enjoyable movie, but it requires somewhat of a suspension of disbelief. A petite white girl is really going to ride a bike through Asbury Park in short shorts by herself at night and not get raped or mugged? A waitress who's totally obnoxious isn't going to get fired? And her grandma forgave her after she nearly caused her to die?
While this movie was built around Hillary Duff, the bright, sparkling career of Evan Ross continues to shine through. In his first semi-romantic lead, Evan's character, Julie, is mature, remorseful and loving. Ms. Duff may have thought that this "bad girl" role would be an opportunity for her to stretch and move into more adult roles. Instead, she comes off looking like a spoiled, undeserving brat. In one of the first more arresting scenes, when she callously reveals how Julie (Evan Ross) learned to cook, it is Evan Ross that pulls the scene up and gives Ms. Duff's "Greta" more substance to play off of. The Academy Award winning actress, Ellen Burstyn, seems a little uncomfortable in the role of her grandmother. Perhaps that is intentional. The affection shared between her and her husband, as seniors still capable of loving, is unique in cinema today.
Evan Ross has an impressive resume of films (25) in some stage of development/production. He has such an ease on camera that it is rather mundane to state, but he looks like a natural on screen. Here he gets to emote in a different way than his previous other (6) roles. His youthfulness limits the types of roles that he gets to play so to see him show another side of a teen developing into a young man, is refreshing.
In only a manner of time, there is undoubtedly a full starring role for him waiting in the wings. He has taken on some solid supporting roles in his previous works ("Life Support", "Gardens of the Night", "Pride", "ATL", etc.). He is now clearly ready for the camera to focus solely on his amazing talents.
He literally steals the show in this affecting role. The movie could have taken the traditional path but it makes an effective, if not, startling progression. His eyes are those classic "Ross" eyes and he clearly has inherited his mother's natural abilities on screen.
He is just a moment away from that break through role. "ATL" is in constant replay on BET and TVONE. "Life Support" has gotten a strong amount of airplay on HBO. So his face is becoming more and more familiar.......out of all the movies on his slate, that breakthrough role is sitting, waiting to be enjoyed by his building fan base and those ready to discover an amazing new talent, one, Mr. Evan Olaf Ross-Naess.
Thanks to the appearances and performances from Ellen Burstyn, Melissa Leo and Mr. Ross, the movie earns another viewing. Though it never got a full theatrical run, it deserves a closer look as a rental, if only to watch the fascinating development of Evan Ross.