I wasn't at all sure I would like Gretchen. First of all, promos kept comparing it to Napoleon Dynamite, which I couldn't stand. And even in the first half hour of the film, I wasn't sure how I was supposed to react. A lot of audience members were laughing at the title character when I felt nothing but empathy for her.
Gretchen is a teenage loser: she wears bulky sweaters and turtlenecks to school, swings her arms wildly when she runs, and tends to stare at people a lot. But for some of us who once had teenage loser tendencies, her predicaments felt more real than comic. One of Gretchen's rivals tells her that she'll never be attractive because of her taste in clothes, her flat chest, and her ugly face, and although the speech is blunt, it sounds genuinely high school.
That's ultimately what made me like Gretchen more than I anticipated: it captured an authentic teenage experience, one without easy answers and a tidy, amusing resolution. The filmmakers didn't resort to the usual teen stereotypes or sitcom-style problems, and the characters are viewed with compassion and not contempt. Gretchen's actions and the subsequent results are more extreme than most of our high-school experiences, but her anxiety and frustrations are universal.