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7/10
painfully true examination of the horror that is childhood
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.
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10/10
Cruelty
jotix1003 May 2005
"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.
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10/10
Painful... but crucial
capkronos14 August 2005
Warning: 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, committing suicide...

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.
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10/10
I even liked the song
Dennis Littrell9 November 2001
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 retards'?

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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8/10
A painful, yet honest look at adolescence
FilmOtaku11 December 2003
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.

--Shelly
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Very under-appreciated
Hessy26 September 1998
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.
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One of the best indies; Long live Wiener Dog!
george.schmidt23 April 2003
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.
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8/10
Bravo Solondz!
George Parker28 March 2001
"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.
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9/10
The Curse of a Middle Child or Welcome to Hell!
Galina21 January 2005
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.

9.5/10
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8/10
A strong, tough film
Plaided16 May 2000
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 effective.

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.
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10/10
Mr. Solondz, I Love You
nuggdachamp1114 September 2005
Look past the seemingly disturbing dialog in this film and take a deep look into its almost perfect portrait of the American Suburbs. Mr. Solondz writes in such a bold and daring fashion that it would be hard to top him. He writes and directs perfect Dark Comedies. The kind of movie I die for. He is a Satirist and he knows just how to disturb his audiences. If you take your time and give this film the multiple viewings it deserves it all begins to make sense. This was the first Solondz movie I saw, so I wasn't expecting what I got. The second viewing made me see the down right funny parts. This is the perfect portrait of an awkward pre-teen. Its doesn't make the "freak" turn out to be some sort of hero. It's new, fresh, and funny.

****/****
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8/10
Truly original exploration of geek childhood
fertilecelluloid7 February 2006
Todd Solandz's first feature is a dead-on accurate exploration of geek childhood as seen through the bespecled lenses of the nerdy Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo). Dawn's rotten school life is compounded by the fact that an older guy at school is targeting her for extracurricular rape. He hasn't quite decided if he's really going to bury the sausage in Dawn, but he's sure getting off on the anxiety he's generating. At home, Dawn must compete with her cute, feisty, outrageously indulged sister Missy (the irrepressible Daria Kalinina), a beauty pageant wanna-be if ever there was one, and a mother she has a huge disconnection issue with. Dawn's life is such a living hell the rape looks like it might be an interesting diversion. Solandz followed this up with the terrific "Happiness", an exploration of a more adult hell. Though the subject matter of "Dollhouse" is incendiary, the nihilism is sautéed in the blackest of humor and deep sympathy for the characters. A true original.
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A Very Dark and Depressing Film
tonymurphylee7 March 2006
*** out of ****

Todd Solindz's(Happiness, Storytelling) first film was a tough one for me. This is mainly due to the fact that I had once seen this film when I was seven or six and really loved it. I have seen it again, at sixteen, very recently and it is not the same movie. I remember when i saw it a young age it was funny and really neat. Now the humor is gone and in replacement is horror and mean spirited characters. It just goes to show how films can mean one thing at one age and another thing at another age. I have been disarmed by this film.

The plot of this creepy film is as simple as a plot can be(unlike Happiness and Storytelling). A girl named Dawn Wiener is harassed by her classmates, her teachers, her family, just about everyone she meets except for her crush that she could never be with. She talks to him and is nice to him and likes to hear about him talk about himself. In one scene she even tries to seduce him. While this is happening, she attempts to fight back against her torturers, and continues to fail and fail, not because she is in capable of doing so, but because it isn't meant to be in a film like this. Her only other friend is a boy who hangs out with her in her clubhouse she built. He may be just as tormented at school as she is as every time he is seen in public, he is called "faggot" and he has low self esteem for it.

The weirdest and yet ironic part about this film is that her biggest school jerk she must always face is a boy who is actually not such a bad kid. He has interesting thoughts on himself and her and doesn't always try to hurt her, yet pretends he does because that is his character. He must stay in character while attempting to either mess her up or keep in touch with her. At one point he continuously threatens to rape her and then hopelessly plans to.

With a creepy and bizarre film like this, it does make the viewer question if it is really necessary to continue to watch. I had a hard time continuing even though i sat through it easily when i was a lot younger. In a way it makes me wonder if i was stronger at that age and more capable of sitting through a film like this since i had no knowledge of the content in this film.

The film, despite having a sad ending, does have a point. If Dawn tries to fight back every time someone torments her, will she ever win? I don't think she will. But i admired her character throughout the film because every time bad things happened to her, she didn't at once cry. She has every reason to, but she stays strong. People today have to admire someone like that because someone who can stay strong when some weirdo is threatening to rape them must have been raised in some way or another. Life is unfair, plain and straight, but she continues to go through life not even once thinking about suicide. It's a shame what happens to her in Paindromes.

Rated R for language.
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8/10
A Bleak and Satirical Social-Commentary; Painfully Detailing The Cruelty, Rejection and Misfortune Of Which The Innocent Receive
Det_McNulty29 March 2007
Daring American director Todd Solondz is widely known for his masterfully bleak 1998 masterpiece Happiness and it is hard to imagine that his career-propelling masterpiece Welcome to the Dollhouse could match the latter slice of twisted American life. Welcome to the Dollhouse remains a counter-piece for his latter work Happiness, using similar techniques, and incorporating related themes Solondz knows how to make his viewers cringe at the misery of which they are viewing. You see, Solondz uses comic-relief to deal with a serious problem because it is a way of making the film easier to cope with and also crafts a more detailed environment.

Welcome to the Dollhouse follows the trials and tribulations of an innocent oddball, paradoxically named Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) and details the stark and painful realities of these "forced-to-be outcasts" in society. Dawn is a girl who is forced to cope with constant misery day after day and regular disillusionment from her fellow family members. Although she is strikingly peculiar in her looks, she strikes the viewer as an innocent and kind child. Ultimately she receives unjustifiable psychological torment and repulsive treatment from the cruel world she has become distanced from, all due to the way society has immorally perceived her. The film follows Dawn's bleakly funny journey of how she deals with her insecurities and learns to deal with the pain in her life.

For the people who were bullied during their school life and were left to practically despise their childhood the film works as a message to them, a poignant message of sympathy and pity. For the people who were the bullies in childhood, the film works as a study of why bullies behave in the way they do, also pitying the bullies, while also making the bullies realise why they should feel guilt for the vindictiveness they forced upon their victims. And for the people who were neutral it will make you remember what happened around you during your time at school. There is no denying that everybody at some point in their life has received some sort of spitefulness towards them, yet Welcome to the Dollhouse offers the opportunity to realise just how unlucky some children really are. I can honestly say that Welcome to the Dollhouse is a film that should be taught to teenagers at some point during their school-life. It would surely make bullies think twice before they picked on the innocent and also gives the bullied a sense of hope.

Although delightfully entertaining, highly amusing and terribly insightful Welcome to the Dollhouse is not a film for everyone. I will not deny that some viewers may find the film nasty and too demanding for viewing. Although this is an intentional and important element of the film it does mean that some might wrongly assume the film to be cruel. For anybody studying sociology or psychology, Welcome to the Dollhouse is about as appropriate and perfect as it gets, offering detailed discussion topics and observant analysis. Sadly there will be people who relate to Welcome to the Dollhouse and so it might be too painful for them to watch. Yet, it might make them realise the mind behind the bully and give them some comfort and humour to their past anguish.

Ironically dry like the counter-piece Happiness, Solondz uses a similarly exaggerated visual style, echoing naturalistic tendencies to depict the dishonesty and the "fake-air" of the life surrounding us. The script is truly startlingly, offering an audacious reality-bite of bold lines and crafting detestable society members. Young actress, Heather Matarazzo gives off a vibrant and delightfully funny performance as Dawn Wiener. She is perfectly cast and slides into the role with such freedom and versatility. You can tell Solondz has crafted the script with a blissful elegance so that the actors and actresses have the freedom to make the characters their own. Solondz is very observant of his characters and visually emphasises their features using different technical methods (e.g. the clothing). Solondz has the utmost understanding of the narrative and one would assume that the film might be personal to his own experiences as he seems so knowledgeable of the characters. Welcome to the Dollhouse also attacks school systems, studying the flaws, ignorance and biased nature of educational power.

Few films will strike such sympathy through devastation by pulling at your emotional-cords without an ounce manipulation. Welcome to the Dollhouse is a horribly realistic slice of life, provocative, compelling and daring in every sense of the word. A far finer and realistic achievement than anything "adolescent-angst" director Larry Clark has ever and ever will come close to creating.
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9/10
Dark and real
B H10 October 2005
This is in the simplest terms a story about a miserable white, suburban, middle-school girl who is accepted nowhere. Not in school with her grades, not at home by her family, and not at all by her peers.

Simultaineouly exhibiting the loneliness of adolescence and the lack of attention associated with being the middle child, this movie is able to realistically portray how truly hopeless and boring that life is for a middle-schooler. The main character, Dawn, is a near-friendless, gawky, and desperate girl. So lonely and confused, in fact, that when a delinquent classmate boy tells her that he wants to "rape" her, she is interested, not horrified.

The story takes us through her initial and misplaced experiences with the opposite sex, her pain and alienation from her peers, her inattentive and unconcerned family, and her continuing resilience throughout it all. The audience will be left to wonder how it is that so many people make it through middle school without developing a serious mental illness from trauma. With it's true to life direction and understandable characters, it will make you remember an awkward time in your own life which you may wish you could forget, but can't.
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9/10
Amazing
aimless-465 September 2005
"Welcome to the Dollhouse" is basically a feature length episode of "Freaks and Geeks", with an amped-up rejection level and consequently an even more alienated main character (Dawn Wiener played by Heather Matarazzo). Then throw in a little of the "Jan Brady" middle child syndrome and give the thing a "Napoleon Dynamite" production design. What makes "Welcome to the Dollhouse" so extraordinary is that it is more about what is happening inside each viewer as they watch the film than about what is actually happening on the screen. Meaning that your reaction and the film's entertainment value will have a lot to do with your own experiences at that age or at least your sympathetic awareness of the difficulties that some of your classmates were experiencing. As someone has already said, if you aren't blown away by how realistic this is then you weren't unpopular enough.

While Dawn's 7th grade world and home life are surreal extremes which give the film a nice level of black comedy (the stuff written on her locker is hilarious), even the most extreme of these elements ring true. In part because Heather Matarazzo is so believable as Dawn and in part because our points of view at that age lacked real perspective. Meaning that minor incidents of rejection and ridicule were magnified, but our perception of reality is more important than reality itself.

Children who first experience rejection in elementary school typically have a physical or basic hygiene issue. Dawn is not one of those children, she is just one of those who become targets for the first time in junior high school for more subtle differences. Since this is a new thing, she is as much mystified as hurt by this abuse. Not really understanding why it is happening to her, she blunders around in a quest to discover a logical reason for the rejection. At the same time she is dealing with the all the physical changes happening to a seventh grade girl. But Dawn's rugged home life has made her self-sufficient and somewhat prepared her for the abuse she has to take in school.

Understandably Dawn responds with retaliation, a welcome change from the more typical portrayals of this type of character as a weak victim. Some of her responses are negative like smashing the tape of her parent's anniversary party, pushing away her only friend, and not relaying her mother's message to her little sister about a ride home. Others are positive, like stubbornly refusing to let the taunts from the crowd stop her from finishing her speech. Based on her refusal to apologize at the dinner table, Dawn would probably refuse to ingratiate herself with her classmates even if she knew how to do so. Which puts most viewers even more solidly in her corner as we not only identify but begin to admire her.

All three of the Weiner children are excellent. Daria Kalinina does a great job as perfect little sister Missy and Director Todd Solondz uses her ballet talents to give sequences in the family home a great surreal quality. Josiah Trager gives older brother Mark a realistic portrayal, he is sympathetic to Dawn's daily situation, having gone through the same thing, but he seems to know that the best help he can give is to lead by example. His hardened survivor attitude and future thinking perspective is probably the best way for her to cope with the next five years.
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7/10
Junior High is Hell
gbheron27 July 2005
Junior High must be the tenth circle of Hell. How do any of us scrawny, not-cool geeks survive it? Perhaps we don't, and all our adult neurosis trace back to 7th grade homeroom and not Mom after all.

Not convinced? Watch Welcome to the Dollhouse and relive Hell.

Dawn Wiener is the protagonist, an awkward 7th grader who is put-upon by everyone from her family to schoolmates. She suffers a multitude of insults, all too small to register with adults who could help, but which inflict a thousand darts to her soul. The movie made me cringe, unearthing long suppressed memories of adolescent cruelties and torment at the hands of bullies. Is this entertainment? Absolutely, Todd Solondz did an admirable job in his freshman movie.
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8/10
7th Grade Rape and Fun
RARubin7 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I am going to watch for more Todd Solondz films. I don't know if WTTD has three acts and an arc, but it held me. I suppose for us late bloomers, male or female, those not physically beautiful or at least with acceptable persona's, seventh grade can break your heart. If there is weakness in Solondz's film, it's the relentless humiliation and tension. Yes, there is a knowing laugh here and there, but the pain comes right back. Dawn is not yet a woman; however, she grasps at any straw that comes her way even if it means rape or violence with a local teen punk. She courageously loves her brother's friend, the unattainable teen rock and roller, but he wants no part of her youth and gawky looks.

These disappointments, her unloving mother and father, indifferent brother, and her babied younger sister are as much an impediment to her happiness as the taunting kids at school. She acts out. She's mean to younger kids, rejects her only friend, defies her mother, destroys her sister's dolls, call's her brother names, contemplates seriously murdering her sister with a hammer, and finally allows sis to be kidnapped by a nutty neighbor.

Is this all over the top? Not really! Seemed like this was the way middle school was, a nightmare of displacement where violence and perversion lurked nearby.
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7/10
Awesome Picture!!
iwatcheverything7 September 2003
This film is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Have you ever watched a movie and felt like you were part of it. When I see this film the actors make me aggrivated with them and hate them as they unknowingly mess with this poor little sweet girl's mind. All she wants is to be popular. This is something I like though. When a film can pull you in that is when you know you have a piece of art in the making. I give this one of my highest ratings. Check this film out as soon as you get a chance.
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10/10
One of the most painful experiences at the movies
Preston-1017 October 2000
I just saw this film yesterday and I have to say that I have seen very few films take the chances that this one does. It's unfortunate because many of us went through the same experiences that Heather Matarazzo's character went through at school: that profound feeling of not being accepted, loved, or wanted by anyone (even members of one's own family). Interestingly, the film went beyond my expectations in showing the wide variety of characters that are true to life: the promiscuous socialite, the popular figurehead, the naive principal, the dictatroial teacher. There really were people people like this when I went to school, and unfortunately, there are still people that we continue to deal with that are not unlike many of the "antagonists" in this film. I like the way that that the lead character is not portrayed as a martyr. While she is a victim of growing up in a cruel and even hateful environment the movie makes a larger statement: while we may be persecuted by the "bullies" at "school" we may feel so overcome by the persecution that we fail to realize the damage that we do to other people's lives. This is possibly best seen in a scene where Dawn refuses to talk to her friend on the telephone. A truly great film but I doubt I will ever want to see it again.
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10/10
Everyone has a little bit of Dawn in them.
SnipChop8715 February 2006
This amazing little film is about one young girl's everyday struggle to survive the harshness of Junior High and her own uncaring parents.

Heather Matarazzo plays 11-year-old Dawn Weiner who is tormented daily by her sadistic classmates. Weither it be the school bully or her own siblings, no one ever has a kind word for Dawn. Dawn is very homely and geeky, yet, has a unique charm about her that over shines her physical flaws. She is the middle child in her house and receives almost no love or support from her parents who are too busy spoiling Dawn's little sister Missy. Dawn's older brother, Mark , is a computer whiz, who is too busy with schoolwork and filling in college resume's to worry about a social life, although he does have a rock band. But anyway, one day, while Dawn is taking a test, a bully named Brandon (played by the amazing Brendan Sexton III)tries to copy off of her. When Dawn refuses to let him copy, Brandon threatens her with rape! Dawn tries to avoid Brandon the rest of the day, but he catches her and tells her to follow him. Surprisingly, Dawn follows him. When they reach the place where the "rape" is going to take place, Brandon suddenly becomes very charming and nice to Dawn and the two form a close bond. One day, Brandon asks Dawn to be his girlfriend. Sadly, Dawn has someone else she's got her eye on. High school hunk Steve Rogers (Eric Mabious, who doesn't even know Dawn is in the world. Anyway, several depressing, yet somewhat humorous incidents occur soon after and Dawn accepts that this is her life and decides to just take it one step at a time.

This movie caught my eye one night on cable. I had heard this and that on it and decided to give it a shot. About ten minutes into the movie and I was hooked. This movie is so realistic that you actually believe that the character of Dawn is a real person. Well, Dawn may not be real, but there sure are plenty of people like her in the world. Unfortantly, there is also hideously cruel people in the world too. Anyway, all the actors give excellent performances especially Heather Matarazzo and Brendan Sexton III (who deserves a LOT more recognition for his awesome acting skills). These two actors carry the movie, although some of the credit must go to writer/director Todd Solondz who captures all the horrors of adolescence in this one of a kind film. Although not everyone will take to this movie, so if it sounds interesting to you pick it up. You will either love it or hate it. But I highly recommend this film.
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7/10
Award winning look at the problems of misfit youth, thankfully told with zest and humour.
Peter Hayes18 November 2004
A thirteen year old girl is living in her own private suburban hell. Disliked and unpopular at school (where she is bullied widely) and little regarded at home - where she comes a sad third to her little-miss-perfect ballerina sister and her nerdy (but smart) older brother.

(Who doesn't like girls because he "wants to go to a good school.")

How rare a subject this is for a professional film, even a low budget one. My mind has span out for a parallel in the movie world - underground or over ground - and come up near empty. The nearest I could come up with is Kes (a brilliant English film from 1969), but that was set in another time and another place.

Maybe also About A Boy (with Hugh Grant), but that was a comedy with a hero about to come to the rescue. Rather than here, where any rescue is going to have to come from within.

You could also throw in a few foreign films - such as Pixote - but these films are often about utter desperation (and even hunger) a million miles from the "safe" American suburbs of modern New Jersey.

With this Tod Solondz won the Sundance Film Festival Best Picture award of 1996 and you can clearly see why. If independent cinema has any role to play in the world it is telling the small private stories that would otherwise go untold.

(While I might be talking prematurely here I am not sure he is a rounded film maker who could take on a variety of projects. However he is more than welcome to prove me wrong!)

Most people are not writers, diarists or raconteurs. However they make small observations and notes which they store away in some cubby-hole in their heads. Occasionally stage comedians tap in to these shared memories and observations - such as the problems of your first kiss, for example - and the audience laughs. What you might call "the laugh of recognition." This film is entirely built around the laugh of recognition or something very much like it.

We have often heard how cruel children can be. The truth is that they have not yet learnt to hide their true selves. While some may grow to be wiser, all that normally happens is that the hatred or dislike of something or someone becomes hidden, unsaid or even intellectualised. Have you ever noticed how childlike arguments become when someone starts losing an argument? Name-calling never really leaves us!

(And if you don't believe me you should read some of my private messages sent to me via the IMDb board!)

Credit Heather Matazzo (as Dawn Wiener) for carrying the whole film on her tiny sloping shoulders. I would be intrigued to learn her technique and approach to the subject. Is she a method actress? Did she snub the "school bullies" at the lunch truck? Pretend is all real? Has she had a hard childhood - to that point at least? Given the targets and script it is hard to see how she could have been any better.

Within the film she forms a strange relationship with a smaller "special education" bully who says that she is going to be "raped." But so empty is her life that she goes along with it and call the boys bluff. What follows is the only real piece of depth that the movie aspires to and isn't easy viewing.

Her parents aren't really fleshed out and are rather two dimensional and one note. Parents do have favourites, but they can never be as cold as they appear here. At least their total disrespect doesn't turn violent!

The rest of the plot involves the formation of a garage band lead by the wonderfully empty headed Eric Mabius - a would-be Jon Bon Jovi with the IQ of a fish. Heather forms a crush on him that might as well be with the real Jon Bon Jovi for all the chance it has of going somewhere. However it allows for some comic interaction with the older boy who she feeds up with home-made snacks. The meeting of two daydream believers!

How will she grow up? Will she find her place in the world? We simply don't know. However she has some intelligence and a lot of nerve and that could serve her well. One day soon the real world will come flooding in and she will laugh at what she once believed and once said. Growing up isn't easy, but nothing really is...
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9/10
Very touching movie that shows us that we're all special in different ways
Catherine_Grace_Zeh20 July 2006
WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, in my opinion, is a very touching movie that shows us that we're all special in different ways. One of the things about this movie that made me feel bad was that Dawn (Heather Matarazzo) got picked on. You poor thing. I really didn't like Lolita (Victoria Davis). This was because she treated Carrie like dirt and acted snobby, especially when she cornered Dawn in the restroom. My favorite character, of course, was Dawn. One of my favorite parts of this movie was when Steve (Eric Mabius) gets angry at his band. Even if others didn't think so, I thought that Dawn was a very special young lady. In conclusion, I recommend this movie to all you Heather Matarazzo fans who have not seen it.
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5/10
Who ever told Dawn Middle school had to be so hard
lilbrat785515 May 2006
Dawn Weiner, one of the most pitiful characters ever created. You want to feel sorry for her, but then you want to be mad at her for all the ridicules things that she does. This isn't a triumph story of any kind, she doesn't really change all that much, things don't really get too much harder for her, the viewer just keeps getting introduced to new drama in Dawn's life. The way that the director is portraying middle school is literally unbelievable to someone who has ever went through middle school. Middle school children are cruel but they aren't generally that mean. They don't write your "nickname" on your locker. Most of the time your parents aren't as bad as they seem. The way the director has the parents hating dawn is flat out stupid. OF course Missy is perfect in everything that she does. It doesn't seem to even matter if she is being the most utterly annoying child in the universe, she is still little miss perfect. It is awful in that perspective.
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