Film Review: According to Greta

According to Greta (2009) stars Hilary Duff who plays Greta. The film takes place in the beautiful beach town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and also shows some of Asbury Park.

*Warning: spoilers ahead.*

Greta is more than just an angsty teenager; she’s bold and unafraid to shock others, she speaks without filter and tells you exactly how she feels, she likes to push people’s buttons. But underneath that fearless, hard shell is: someone who’s absolutely terrified of life, and swayed by her own emotions like sand in the wind. And her tendency to become super wrapped up in what she’s feeling results in disregard of how her actions affect those around her.

This summer, Greta’s mother has sent her on a bus to the Jersey shore, to stay with her grandparents. Upon arrival, she is very unhappy to greet Grams and Gramps, who politely await her with friendly smiles. Instead, Greta is far too aware that the only reason they’re stuck with her is because her mom didn’t want to deal with her. Pulling out a bullet journal, Greta informs them that she’s been brainstorming ways to kill herself before she turns eighteen, and also has a bucket list of things she’d like to complete before then.

Greta is highly displeased with Ocean Grove, although it seems that she would be upset regardless of her environment. Her father passed away several years ago and her mother has sent her away in order to work on her third marriage. Ocean Grove is full of retired folks, not much excitement, and Grams doesn’t even have cable TV. Meanwhile, the town borders Asbury Park, which is “the dark side,” full of crime and danger.

Grams is highly adamant on giving Greta rules, structure, and discipline — as her mother seems to let her do whatever she wants. Gramps is a bit more lenient, but also agrees with Grams. Greta fights back with full force — with snarky remarks, arguing with the elderly neighbor, and even hiring a cable guy so she can finally flip through endless TV channels.

She also spends her first night doing one of the most important things she was told not to do — take a walk through Asbury Park after dark. Terrified by a street fight, she anxiously scribbles “get in a fist fight with a grown man” off her bucket list. Luckily a cop who’s breaking up the fight sees her staring in the distance, and drives her home safely.

To get some extra spending money, Greta takes a job as a waitress at a seafood restaurant. Many costumers are at first taken aback by her sassiness and attitude, but swiftly find it amusing, borderline charming.

At her job, Greta meets Julian. The two of them click fairly quickly. One day, as Greta mentions to Grams something about her new friend “Julie,” Grams suggests to invite the friend over for lunch. Thinking that “Julie” is a girl, Grams is shocked to see a boy coming to their home, but invites him in anyway as Greta smirks to herself.

During the meal, it seems that Greta’s goal is to fluster her grandparents through Julian. She brings up to them how Julian was once in juvenile detention for stealing cars. However, her plan backfires, as Julian explains how he’s a changed man, he’s a different person now. Her grandparents even make a joke out of the whole thing, leaving Greta annoyed and a bit disgusted.

Afterwards, Julian storms off in anger about how Greta tried exploiting him like that. The anger morphs into passion, and now the two of them are kissing for the first time. But then it turns back to anger, as Julian finds Greta’s notebook and she reveals to him her suicidal aspirations. And then anger transforms into comfort with Julian trying to explain to Greta how privileged and lucky she is.

As Grams is becoming increasingly fed up with Greta’s rebellion, Gramps takes her out on a boat ride. Here, he asks her about a pill they found in the toilet, and Greta confesses that she’s been prescribed antidepressants that she’s been throwing away because they make her feel like she’s not herself.

Greta has a rough day at work, and her boss is fed up with her cheeky rudeness towards costumers. She clings to Julian, who’s trying to focus on his cooking. Her boss pulls her aside for a little chat, telling her how her confidence and self-assurance will get her far in life, but that she has a way of poking people’s eyes out with her words, and that she needs to show more respect. Storming off, Greta quits the job — Julian chases after her and attempts to fix the situation, but she refuses.

At night, Greta convinces Julian to come over, who has to sneak inside to get past her sleeping grandparents. She wants to be intimate, but Julian denies her because he doesn’t want to be just another thing she checks off her list. Suddenly cop lights flash — turns out the neighbor called the cops, assuming Julian was breaking in a robbing the place. Her grandparents, wide awake now and completely alarmed, get the situation sorted out. Afterwards, Gramps pulls Julian aside to disclose that Greta walked in on her father shooting himself when she was a very young child.

All seems to be going smoothly now, with Grams, Gramps, Julian and Greta taking a nice boat ride together. Gazing into the distance, Greta feels tempted to knock the anchor into the water, letting her foot get tangled in the rope, purposely causing her to sink down into the ocean. Drowning, Julian jumps in to her rescue. Worried sick, Grams falls into a heart attack and must be taken to the hospital.

And that’s when Julian has had his final straw. He calls Greta out on her dramatic behavior, comparing the difference between his previous cell mate who actually killed himself without warning, verses the girl who keeps on talking about it for attention.

Slowly recovering, Grams has a confrontation with Greta, who acts like she is sorry but won’t actually say it. This is when Greta reveals her fear of aging, her perception of life metaphorically ending after seventeen, while you spend the rest of your life trying to run from death. She questions if Grams misses her younger self, when she was a completely different person, so much livelier and freer.

In return, Grams admits that she would never go back, even if she had the chance. She has met so many people, and has had so many experiences, that shaped her to be a completely unique person since then. Her “past self” is only a tiny fraction of the person she is today. She tells Greta how life is an adventure, and how there are so many wonderful things awaiting her someday, that her life has truly only just begun.

Finally, Greta’s mom shows up and there’s a whole debacle about what to do with Greta. Gramps, totally fed up, shuts everyone down (with his foghorn) and forces Greta’s mom to stay with them for at least a week or so in order to hash things out. Greta stays the rest of the summer and comes to agree that Ocean Grove is actually a pretty cool place, after all.

According to Greta” explores universal life themes that both the young and the old can relate to. You see a young girl anxious for excitement, who thrillingly walks to Asbury Park at night in fantasy of danger, just to realize the reality of fear. And then you see a grandma, happily spending her days making seashell crafts, with a whole former life packed away in her closet.

The film explores mental health, with Greta suffering from PTSD after witnessing her father’s suicide during her childhood. It seems that, although she may not truly want to die, that death is something she thinks about far too often. Like many people on mood-balancing pills, Greta refuses to take them because she doesn’t feel like herself, despite the negative consequences that follow. Alongside, Julian stresses the fact that helping yourself is a choice that you make, not something that anyone else can do for you.

A recurring message here is that people change — if they allow themselves to do so. We meet Julian as a hopeful and ambitious man with a strong sense of responsibility and self-awareness. But he shares that not so long ago, he was a criminal. Now he keeps himself busy because he knows that boredom will lead him to trouble. And then we have Grams, who also discusses how much she has changed, all for the better, through accumulation of new people and new experiences.

Meanwhile, Greta is terrified of change, clinging onto the wounds of her childhood and not allowing herself to heal into a new person. Instead of taking medication that could help her and the people around her, she’d rather cling to a damaged personality, due to her fear of change. It seems by the end of the film, she has learned that change is actually a good thing, and doesn’t have to be so scary.

After the movie finished filming in 2008, I was beyond excited, as a Hilary Duff fan who just so happened to take annual summer vacations in Ocean Grove, NJ. I recognize every scene in this film. I was thirteen-years old at the time. Here’s some photos of the house!


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