Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Say it out loud - Gret-chen - It's a chewable, rolling name for a movie, and it's hero. Telling the story of a 17-year old girl, an emotional cripple seeking meaning to her existence through parental reunion, ineffective counselling, and prom preparation.

Gretchen Finkel (Courtney Davis) is perpetually miserable, she has a deep, crushing love for Ricky - a slobbering ape of a boyfriend - who thinks nothing of taking third base with the school slut. The deep self-loathing, expressed through frumpy clothes, an ungainly shuffle, and a permanent scowl evolves into outbursts of rage, leading to the school counsellor, and eventually expulsion.

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Director Steve Collins makes the viewer ache for Todd Solondz's great - and little-seen outside his fanbase - Welcome To The Dollhouse. Gretchen has the awkward social misfit, but none of the incisive washing-soda wit, or skill in storytelling.

While often painful to watch, this is because the characters are such cyphers and definitely not because it has any difficult truths about school outsiders. It occasionally clicks with the audience, when Collins doesn't painfully over-exaggerate his stunningly freakish characters. Watch Davis' quietly exasperated reading of "Did you ever feel like you were missing something, and you're heart wouldn't work right without it?" - and you get a sense of just how good the film could be played straight.

"A pattern is something we do over and over again"

Spoken aloud by a counsellor, it's a fitting choice the film chooses to repeat itself visually. (rear-view mirror distancing shots, direct frame-filling voice-over confessionals, Gretchen freaking out at the object of her affection) It's a good looking movie, and sure, we temporarily giggle at the composition gags and musical choices. Witness the very funny impromptu rave scene where about five kids spasming to the '95 Mortal Kombat theme tune. Collins can mature into a fine filmmaking talent, but his story and screenwriting need a lot of work - at present, they resemble a collection of strung together sketches.

Heck, most of the cast are visibly 10 years too old for their characters. Is Collins making some criticism or commentary like the Solondz in Palindromes? I was past caring, really. It's a misfire on every non-visual level.

(Oh, and slow motion scenes using Moonlight Sonata should be retired, along with the Wilhelm scream for at least five years, and only used then by those who know how.)

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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An awkward teenager seeks revenge for a broken heart.

Read more Gretchen reviews:

George Williamson ***1/2

Director: Steve Collins

Writer: Steve Collins

Starring: Courtney Davis, John Merriman, Becky Ann Baker, Stephen Root, Macon Blair, Yasmin Kittles

Year: 2006

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2006

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