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Grimly convincing portrayal of life in junior high school for the
unpopular. If you aren't blown away by how realistic this is then you
weren't unpopular enough: this is the real deal.
This movie strips away the rosy patina of nostalgia that covers most other films that portray the grim nature of childhood. I admire the film for avoiding the common trap of making the lead an innocent victim. Heather is, when the opportunity arises, just as cruel as anyone else in the film. The movie doesn't make Heather a child, but instead makes her a confused human being full of conflicting emotions such as hatred, lust, anguish and guilt.
I think to understand this movie though, you need to realize that you are viewing everything from Heather's point of view. Teachers and parents are ridiculously unfair, classmates are alarmingly sadistic, and you could point at some action and say, oh, I doubt that would happen, but there's a strong emotional truth; this is what it feels like to be an unhappy child.
When I watch movies about unpopular kids, I am always disappointed because their lives are better than mine was, and this is the first movie I could point to and say, if you want to see what I was dealing with in Junior High, watch Dollhouse. But while I always wanted a movie that shows the unvarnished truth, it is really difficult to watch. Although if you can make it through the first half hour it gets just a shade less horrific. And it does have a quirky sense of humor that lightens it some. I avoided this movie for years because I was afraid it would be too painful, and a friend said no, it's not that painful, and she was sort of right and sort of wrong. But it's definitely worth seeing.
"Welcome to the Dollhouse" was the introduction of an important voice
in the American cinema. Todd Solondz's incisive study of a suburban
family is one of the best indie films of the last decade. Having seen
it in its theatrical release, we had the opportunity recently to take a
new look at it. Mr. Solondz has created a picture of what cruelty does
to a child, and how prevalent it is everywhere.
When we first meet the Wieners, living in suburban New Jersey, they appear to be the ideal family. Both parents, on the surface, look normal, but in watching them closely we come to the conclusion they are not. Some couples are not meant to be parents and the Wieners, obviously, while supportive of the older son, Mark, and the cute younger daughter, Missy, turn a blind eye toward Dawn, their middle daughter who is going through a hard time as she starts junior high school.
Not only is Dawn an unhappy girl, but she is the object of cruelty in the hands of the other students, both in her class, and in her school, in general. We watch as Brandon, the punkish boy, begins to taunt Dawn in his own sadistic way. Other girls come right out and ask Dawn whether she is a lesbian. There's also another girl that terrorizes her when both meet in the school bathroom. Every time Dawn tries to rebel, it turns out in disaster. Her school teacher doesn't even see anything wrong with Dawn, who is obviously affected by all she is experiencing at this crucial moment.
Dawn hits a nerve with Brandon when she calls him a retard. Little does she know his own brother is mentally challenged. Usually in the case of bullies like Brandon, they are acting up their frustrations by taking it on others they perceive as weaker, which is why he thinks he can do anything to Dawn because she will never do anything to him.
In a scene that gives cruelty a new name, we watch as the Wieners are having dinner one night. When Dawn contradicts something her mother has said, she is punished by not getting her dessert. We watch in total disbelief as the other Wieners begin to eat and Dawn's slice of chocolate cake remains near her mother until Missy asks to share that piece with Mark.
Dawn only has a friend. The young boy who shares her interests in hanging out in the dollhouse in the Wiener's backyard. When the hunky Steve Rogers joins Mark's band, Dawn discovers an irresistible attraction toward this loser. Dawn turns against her only friend and will call him names that we all realize is her own way to deal with emotions she has no control on. Instead of finding happiness among her peers, Dawn only encounters scorn and ridicule.
In Heather Matarazzo, the director found a young talent to give life to Dawn Wiener. Ms. Matarazzo has a peculiar kind of beauty, but she is made to wear horrible clothes to capture the essence of this sad young teen. Ms. Matarazzo under the guidance of Mr. Solondz makes an appealing Dawn. This young actress gave her character a range of emotions that even older, and more accomplished, actress wouldn't have given to this lost soul.
The rest of the cast is perfect. Brendan Sexton plays Brendan, the boy from a poor and broken home that has to deal with the blow life has given him. Angela Pietropinto as Mrs. Wiener is seen as the mother from hell. Mattew Faber and Daria Kalinina play Dawn's siblings.
This was a film that put Todd Solondz on the map. As he has shown with later films, he is a voice to be reckoned with in the independent cinema.
Do not go into Welcome to the Dollhouse expecting a charming coming-of-age
story. Don't expect to have a lot of laughs either. I'd seen this film
several times before this viewing, including its original theatrical run,
and it was just as cringe-worthy as the first time, if not more so because
you know what to expect and find that you are bracing yourself.
Solondz gives us the story of Dawn Weiner, a painfully awkward 13 year old girl who not only has to contend with being ostracized and friendless at school, but is essentially ignored and treated with disdain at home as well. Being the middle child is obviously not the easiest thing to deal with within the family dynamic, but when your older brother is a geeky over achiever and your little sister is a gorgeous ballet-dancing cherub who commands total devotion from her mother, life is generally difficult for Dawn.
Solondz throws in some intriguing plot points that punch up the story and encourage introspection, but while the story and presentation are excellent, the real breakout element of the film is the performance of Heather Matarazzo. It is amazing that she was the same age as her character during filming because the performance, while the right age, exhibits a talent beyond her years. You would be hard pressed to find someone who actually found the torment against her as humorous. Rather, Solondz is so relentless with the abuse that it's almost like picking at a scab. However, in the character of Dawn Weiner, we also see strength and conviction to go along with her vulnerability. It's as if she finally realized and perfected these defense mechanisms simply so she can `survive' junior high school.
Welcome to the Dollhouse is not a feel-good movie by any means. It is a stark and realistic look at adolescence in a way that we don't normally see it it is not a sunny and idyllic junior high/high school experience, and not every `nerd' is stereotypical, a fact soundly proven by the complexity of the heroine of this great movie.
WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (1996) **** Heather Matarazzo, Brian Sexton Jr., Eric Mabius, Matthew Faber, Daria Kalinina, Angela Pietropinto. Easily one of the best independent films ever produced. Matarazzo is brilliant perfection as 11 year old Dawn Wiener - Wiener Dog - who is trying desperately to survive the 7th grade NJ suburban hell with her existence as a gawky, nerdy yet smarter- than-the-rest protagonist facing every conceivable roadblock to hurdle including a dimwitted hunky high schooler and a seemingly threatening classmate (Sexton who is also great) who can't decide if he wants to "rape" her. Heartbreaking and all too close to the bone perfectly realized depiction of how judgemental we all are and just how harrowing adolescence really is. Dare not to be angered when her self-indulgent mother takes away her cake at the dinner table while the rest of the monstrous family greedily eat their desserts. Black comedy satire and documentarian genres blending seamlessly to a genuine masterpiece of poignancy sharply observant parable of anomie and angst by writer and director Todd Solondz (who won the Best Picture prize at Sundance). Wickedly funny and dead on accurate.
"Welcome to the Dollhouse" is a fresh, creative, no frills pic about a junior high school girl who is the personification of "uncool". This poignant film could be dark comedy, light drama, satire or even farce depending on how its interpreted. However that may be, it shows in painful detail the assassination of the self esteem of a sweet, kind, and thoughtful girl who wants little more than to be liked. Entertaining as it may be, "...Dollhouse" is a movie with a message for everyone who has ever been 12.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a shining example of the potential of independent cinema. More
specifically, American independent cinema. If you put together nearly
every Hollywood movie dealing with early adolescence, their combined
weight in truth would not equal what we see in this one film. For some
reason, it seems that most screenwriters and directors seem to look
back on their youth with blinding nostalgia - painting the whole
experience like it was some kind of carefree paradise. One full of
prank playing, football games, pep rallies, getting laid, wild parties
and having an all-around great time. What makes this movie so powerful
and so unique is that it never shies away from being honest, even when
it gets really nasty. As you are reading this, kids all over world are
being ignored, taunted, degraded, pushed around, abused... And they are
doing anything to try escape it. Running away, turning to drugs,
WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE basically details the life of a tween social outcast and middle child named Dawn Weiner (Heather Matazzaro). For Dawn, every day is a struggle for both survival and distraction from her 'real life'... She is degraded on a daily basis by her peers at school who refer to her as either "lesbo" or "weiner dog," is receiving sexual threats from fellow outcast Brandon (Brendan Sexton III) and has to deal with a complete lack of love and nurturing from her frustratingly inept parents, who don't try to hide the fact that they prefer her brainy older brother and ballerina younger sister to her.
Part of the genius of this film is that, despite the extremely grim subject matter, it is also blisteringly funny. You will laugh and you will wince... and often at the same time. The acting (largely from a group of unknowns) is spot-on, the writing is excellent and the suburban sets are appropriately gaudy.
Interestingly, I've noticed skimming through other reviews and on the message board, that those who are/were near the bottom social ring in middle and high school seem to find more to grab on to here and much more emotional impact. Many of the haters seem to think this is wholly fabricated... possibly because they didn't have to deal with the the abuse, the whispering, the everyday torment that many others have to endure. Or possibly because they put someone else through it.
This movie was great. I was shocked to see no one had posted a comment on it. A fantastic performance by Heather Matazarro. The movie is all about growing up in a world that expects you to already be an adult. Because Dawn Weiner is "ugly" she is mistreated, harassed, and ignored by everyone she comes across. I don't think I've ever seen a movie that featured a character more emotional alone. There is a scene where Dawn's mother offers Dawn's dessert to her siblings to get back at her. They take it, eagerly. Most movies like this are either black comedies or feature a character who is stoicaly non-conformist or just stoic. Dawn is neither. She bleeds, right up until the movies end, which I won't spoil but I will say that it is all the more heartbreaking for its inertia as for its action. Go find this one. You'll either love it or hate it. It's not a movie that just lets you go.
Just imagine for one second that you are an 11 years old girl with ugly
glasses. You are a middle child (the film also known as Faggots and
Retards (working title) or Middle Child) with an older brother who is a
computer wiz and a little sister, a pretty ballerina. Your name is Dawn
Wiener, and almost every student in your middle school hates you, tells
you in your face that you are ugly, and nobody remembers your name, you
are called Dog Face or Wiener Dog', and one of your classmates greets
you every morning with the words, "I'll rape you today at 3 pm" . The
film should be called "Welcome to Hell", and Todd Solondz is our Virgil
in this Inferno.
Heather Matarazzo is absolutely terrific. She was able to play both, an archetype of an insecure, unloved, misunderstood, and lost in this cruel world child as well as one very real suffering young girl from New Jersey. That's why I could not forget her Dawn, I wanted to talk her, to tell her that yes, the world is cruel, and she was dealt the mixed cards from the beginning but she could play them, there is always hope, there are books, music, and art. Hang on; I would tell her, you are not going to be an "ugly duckling" forever. You'll take off your stupid glasses, you will grow up, you'll be just fine and you will find friends just wait. But how can one wait at 11? The time drags so slowly in childhood, and every day is descending to Hell
One of the best films about the "happy" school years I've ever seen.
Welcome to the Dollhouse is an excellent film. It shows, in a strictly
un-opinionated manner, a young girl's experiences as one of the unpopular
kids in her junior high-school. She is faced with the extreme viciousness
commonly shown in schools towards the students who, for whatever reason,
don't fit in. The film never attempts to go any deeper than simply
displaying these occurences to us, never really analyzing them or
questioning why things like that happen. It just shows what is, what we've
all experienced or at least seen, and for that I think it's all the more
There are also some humorous moments thrown in, which I thought were nice and somewhat alleviated the otherwise depressing mood of the film (not that I'm complaining).
Welcome to the Dollhouse is a great snapshot of human behaviour. That's the best way I can describe it.
This is a very funny comedy about the indomitable spirit of an
11-year-old junior high school girl, Dawn Wiener, played with geekish
verve by Heather Matarazzo, who overcomes real life horrors the likes
of which would make war heroes shutter. How would you like to be
courted by a guy whose pick up line is 'I'm going to rape you at three
o'clock. Be there.'? Or have a mother who splits your chocolate cake in
front of your watering eyes into two pieces and adds them to the plates
of your brother and sister? Or have your dream lover tell you he can't
be a member of your Special People Club because it's 'a club for
It gets worse. You're taunted daily by choruses of 'Wiener Dog!' and 'Lesbo freak!' and bullied at school by everybody including some teachers and the principal. And at home, your siblings tear down your club house. And when you're missing from home for a day and phone home, you're told to call back later, mom and your spoiled little sister are mugging for the TV cameras.
Ah, but Dawn can overcome the night. She turns the would-be rapist into a macho-posturing little boy who really only wants to be affectionate ('I make the first move!' he boasts) and demonstrates that no matter how hard they hit her, she'll be back tomorrow, undaunted.
Matarazzo does a great job, but she isn't alone. Brenden Sexton stands out as the posturing macho boy who loves her but can't admit it, as does Eric Mabius playing Steve Rogers, the self-absorbed high schooler/rock star wanna be (and Dawn's first love). The rest of the cast is also good, especially Victoria Davis in a bit part as the foul-mouthed, sexually ambiguous 12-year-old Lolita who corners Dawn in the bathroom. Incidentally that scene in which Lolita slyly tells Dawn 'You didn't come in here to wash your hands,' and insists that she do what she intended to do is just a great piece of pre adolescent camp. Another fine (and subtle) scene is when Dawn in her bedroom hears Steve Rogers sing for the first time (in the garage with her brother's 'band'). The expression on her face, as she rises up enthralled and follows the sound, suggests someone in the throes of a first awakening. And I loved the bit where Dawn, after being told by one of Steve Rogers's ex-girl friends that they 'finger-...(you-know-what)' one night and that was all, is inspired to demonstrate her finger work on the piano to Steve and then to show him her hands, fingers spread so he can see them. Of course he hasn't a clue to what she's thinking--and we're not too sure either!
Now some people may think there is some exaggeration here, and they're right. I mean, nobody wears a pirate's black eye patch after getting hit in the eye with a spit ball! And teachers, even bad ones, know better than to deliberately humiliate their students (although some do it unconsciously). Nonetheless, while the action may not be entirely realistic at times, its spirit is totally true. Just ask anybody who remembers junior high school. Which brings me to the question: how did director and script writer, Todd Solondz, get it so right? Did he take notes when he was still in junior high to use when he grew up? Did he steal his daughter's diary? Clearly somebody lived this script. I'm guessing that 'Dawn' is 'Todd' at least in spirit, and the striking capture of the psychology of the world of being twelve-years-old is due to his having been there and done that, 'big time,' as is written on Dawn's locker.
Whatever, this full color world of the middle child is an adorable, witty, psychologically honest, beautifully directed and edited, masterfully conceived entertainment, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, 1996, and sure to steal your heart.
Final irony: this is a movie for and about 12-year-olds (it would appear) yet it is rated 'R' and so, in effect, junior high school life is not only 'not suitable' for those under thirteen, they can't even view it!
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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