Angst in her pants
Released as Greta in the USA and re-titled for its straight-to-DVD UK release, Surviving Summer occupies an awkward space between (young) adult drama and tween coming-of-age fable. For while it’s clear that star (and co-producer) Hilary Duff is keen to move on from her squeaky clean Hannah Montana Disney poster-girl image, this film is not accomplished – nor edgy – enough to entice an older audience, while at the same time being near enough to the mark to alienate much of Duff’s fanbase. And a 15 certificate, brought about by strong themes and a smattering of foul language, has cast Surviving Summer adrift in a demographic where it is going to struggle to find a foothold.
One thing is for sure; this is Duff as you’ve never seen her before. She is 17-year-old Greta, a smart-mouthed teen who, upon being dispatched to her grandparents’ (Michael Murphy and Ellen Burnstyn) for the summer, immediately declares her intention to commit suicide when she turns 18. Living by her own ruled, Greta ignores all boundaries and rides roughshod over the locals, her rudeness and selfish behaviour knowing no bounds. When she meets restaurant chef Julie (Evan Ross), however, Greta begins to realise that life may be worth living after all, and the stage is set for a journey of self discover and redemption.
Unfortunately it’s a journey that follows a dot-to-dot path of cliche and platitudes, with each step feeling more tired and well-worn as the film progresses. There’s no attempt to mine new territory or give the film its own identity; it’s as if the filmmakers are content to bet the farm on the shock value of seeing the squeaky-clean Duff play such a bad girl – albeit one couched in MTV-inspired terms of inoffensive rebellion – to carry the movie, rather than rounding out the narrative or the characters. And what such great players as Burnstyn and Melissa Leo, who turns up in a small cameo as Greta’s despairing mum, are doing in this dross only adds to the confusion. One for die-hard Duff fans only; and even they may find her riot grrrl turn a tough act to swallow. 1 star
Stars Hilary Duff, Ellen Burnstyn
Director Nancy Bardawil
Distributor Icon Home Entertainment
Released June 21