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1001 Overlooked Movies - Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

A teenage girl struggles through Junior High.

Directed by: Todd Solondz
Starring: Heather Matarazzo, Brendan Sexton III, Eric Mabius, Matthew Faber, Daria Kalinina, Dimitri Iervolino

Teenage life has never been so painful and yet so accurately portrayed as in Todd Solondz’ brilliantly biting film, 'Welcome To The Dollhouse'. Regardless of what your social stature was back then, there are many things that you can relate to when watching this, whether you were the socially awkward nerd or not. One thing is made abundantly clear when watching this: Junior High is a very painful and frustrating time in a kid’s life. The character of Dawn Weiner (Matarazzo) knows this first hand. Yet what sets her apart from other movie nerds is that she is a very layered character. At first she is clearly the victim, but as the story progresses she becomes just as vicious as those who are tormenting her. Yet we understand fully why she would react this way.
Dawn Wiener’s life is filled with one bad situation after another. Her classmates tease and make fun of her right to her face. The words "Weinerdog" are written in large letters on her locker. Even the people she helps hurl out insults too. One girl even makes Dawn take a shit right in front of her (and I thought the bullies in my school were rough). Yeah, her life at school is no fun, but her life at home is no picnic either. Being the middle child, Dawn has to compete with her college obsessed brother, Mark (Faber), and her annoyingly adorable little sister Missy (Kalinina), who is clearly the parents’ favorite. When Steve Rogers (Mabius), the most popular boy in high school, talks to her without calling her names, she immediately falls in love with him, but her feelings for him  are misguided. Another character whose feelings are confused is Brandon McCarthy (Sexton III). His actions at first are very cruel and violent, but there is another interpretation to his actions that I will explain later.
Dawn wants to be with Steve, but never really stops to ask herself why. The only reason she wants to have sex with him is because she thinks she will obtain popularity by sleeping with him. Steve Rogers is just part of her (and I’m sure a lot of other young girls’) Prince Charming fantasy, a person she thinks will take her away from all of the pain and torment in her life and make her happy. She doesn’t know that she needs to make herself happy instead of having others do it for her.  Brandon McCarthy, on the other hand, is a bit more of a complex character. On the surface, he is just the bully who is there to torment and harass Dawn. When Dawn stands up to him before school, he comes back later and says that he is going to rape her at three when school ends. Although the act is interrupted the first time, Dawn chooses to meet up with him after school around the same time the next day. They go to an abandoned field and end up talking instead. It’s almost like the whole rape scenario was just an excuse for Brandon to have a date with Dawn without his friends finding out about it. He likes Dawn because they are both outcasts from the popular crowd, but he chooses to hide behind his bully exterior to keep from having his feelings hurt. Now, you may be asking yourself why she was willing to go with him if she knew about the rape, and my answer is this: Dawn knows very little to nothing about sex, and in her mind she is happy enough to find a boy who finds her attractive enough to want to allow this to happen. Keep in mind too that she is also willing to do things with Steve without knowing anything about her own sexuality either.
It would be very easy to label Dawn as being stupid, but I think she is just misinformed. She is only in the 7th grade and is still going through puberty. She has yet to mature or develop her own feelings or build up any type of self confidence. I’m sure she looks at her sister Missy and she believes that if she were more pretty people would like her and just hand her things. The parents doting on the little girl, rather then her, helps exemplify that point.  Dawn is confused about many things and it’s sad that she doesn’t have many people to talk to. She had a friend named Ralphy (Iervolino) at the start, but burns that bridge because she feels that he is stopping her from become more popular. If she had more friends and a better family she would understand that not everyone is going to like you, but if enough people do (even a small amount), life is not so bad.
'Welcome To The Dollhouse' should be required viewing for all kids starting junior high.  I think it is much more effective in dealing with the subject of bullies then the 2001 documentary 'Bully'. At least in this movie we get to see where Brandon lives and get some insights to his behavior. Heather Matarazzo is brilliant as the main character and I  wish she was in more features because she was really good in this. I like the way Todd Solondz shoots this movie as something that appears to be very bright and happy but has a lot of dark undertones to certain scenes. This is a film that deserves The Criterion Collection treatment on Blu-Ray and DVD.

The official '1001 Movies' list includes the following movies from 1995 - Braveheart, Deseret, Babe, Seven, Smoke, The White Balloon, Underground, The Brave Heart Will Take the Bride, Cyclo, Clueless, Safe, Heat, Toy Story, Dead Man, The Usual Suspects, Zero Kelvin, Casino, Strange Days

The Vern
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