An ungainly melange of Disney Channel aesthetics and self-important indie sensibilities, suicidal-teen melodrama “According to Greta” falls into a peculiar dead zone most recently occupied by “Georgia Rule”: The film is too risque for the youngsters who would respond best to its broad characters and dilemmas, but too ingenuously white-bread for anyone old enough to handle its sporadic foul language and (very mild) sex scenes. Likely to be no more than a bump in the road for its developing star, Hilary Duff, “Greta” feels destined for marginal DVD release after a brief theatrical run.
Now in her early 20s, Duff is one of very few former Disney Channel teen starlets to reach adulthood without collapsing into a drunken heap in public, and in this film — coupled with her endearingly trashy recent cameo on “Gossip Girl” — she attempts to dirty up her image without alienating her remaining tween fans. The result is predictably uncomfortable. As the rebellious 17-year-old Greta, Duff is so obviously engineered to be a cross between Lizzie McGuire and Juno that she may as well be a YouTube mash-up.
Like many overly dramatic teens, Greta is an active diarist, although her journal is unusual in that she uses it to compile prospective methods of suicide. Shipped off to the Jersey shore to spend the summer with her grandparents (Michael Murphy, Ellen Burstyn), she bluntly announces her intentions to off herself as soon as she turns 18. Much like the audience, her grandparents have no idea how seriously to take this proclamation.
Ruthlessly sarcastic without ever being funny, Greta unleashes torrents of rude quips first toward her grandmother, then toward an Asbury Park restaurateur who inexplicably hires her as a waitress, (she applies for the job while wearing an old prom dress, dripping with seawater), and then later toward her customers, who somehow find her insults charming. Here she meets a streetwise yet nonthreatening young cook (Evan Ross, son of Diana) who takes a shine to her despite her frequent manipulations. Clearly, a third-act revelation is waiting to explain and excuse Greta’s obnoxious behavior, but it doesn’t make the time spent in her company any less of a drag.
Duff (who also exec produced) appears deeply uncomfortable in the role — she now looks old enough to start playing actual adult parts, but she still acts with the overplayed urgency and unnatural precision of a child star. Burstyn and Murphy acquit themselves well without expending too much energy, and Melissa Leo turns up toward the end for what one hopes will be one of her last thankless bit parts.
As directed by Nancy Bardawil, the film looks decent enough, though its snappy, tube-style editing and handheld camerawork prove an awkward match. Duff’s frequent voiceover segments are accompanied by animated collage-style visuals that boast a stylishness missing from the rest of the film.