1001 Overlooked Movies: Welcome To The Dollhouse (1995)


***Warning**** The Following review may contain some spoilers.

Welcome poster

Welcome To The Dollhouse.

Cast: Heather Matarazzo, Brendan Sexton III, Eric Mabius

Writer and Director: Todd Solondz

Teenage life has never been so painful and yet so accurately portrayed 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.  Wither 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 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(Heather Matarazzo) 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 out hurl 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(Matthew Faber) and her annoyingly adorable little sister Missy(Daria Kalinina), who is clearly the parents’ favorite. When Steve Rogers(Eric 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(Brendan Sexton III).  His actions at first are very cruel and violent, but there is another interpretation to his actions that I will explain later.

Welcome To The DollhouseDawn 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 stand 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 abandon 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 should 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

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 belives that if she were more  pretty.  People will like her and just hand her things.  The parents doting on the little girl rather then her helps exlemplify 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(Dimitri 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 a much more effective in dealing with the subject of bullies then the 2001 documenaty “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 the main character and I  wished 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 the certain scenes.  This is a film that deserves The Criterion Collection treatment on Blue Ray and DVD.

Welcome 3

These would be my Special Features.

Cast Commentary with Heather Matarazzo,Eric Mabius and Brenden Sexton III.

Director Commentary by Todd Solondz.  (Moderator Neil Labute)

Welcome Back to the Dollhouse:  Full Cast Reunion and Interviews

Reactions to The Dollhouse:  Several junior high school kids give their reactions  to the movie.

Interview with Heather Matarazzo, on Late Night with Conan O’Brien (1996)

Interview with Todd Solondz

Artwork by Daniel Clowes(“Ghost World“)

Please check out more great reviews in the ongoing series over at The Movie Waffler.  The 1001 Overlooked Movies(You should see before you die)

About The Vern

I love movies and I enjoy writing about them too. They both go pretty much hand in hand with each other and it's fun to discover new classics. I co host the podcasts The Film Pasture, ScreenTrax, and soon Cinema Recall. While also contributing reviews and articles to other great sites when I can.
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6 Responses to 1001 Overlooked Movies: Welcome To The Dollhouse (1995)

  1. table9mutant says:

    Good review. Remember seeing this years ago. Interesting film.

  2. Fringe Void says:

    A cult classic for sure! There’s a lot of deadpan black comedy that I think people miss. One of my favorite parts might be the main theme. It’s on a mix CD in my car. “I’ve got a blow-up doll and she looks like you, little girl…”

  3. kristof says:

    Definitely Solondz’s claim to fame. The only film ever to induce in me a hysterical fit of laughter that abruptly turned to profuse weeping and back again. I refer, of course, to the scene in which Dawn attempts to play Chopin for the object of her adolescent fixation (who remains blithely indifferent and self-absorbed). We’ve all been THERE. Poignant, pathetic, and painful all rolled up into one impossibly complex scene untouched by the cynicism and weary misanthropy frequently evident in Solondz’s work.

    I found myself inappropriately aroused by Brendan Sexton’s menacing Brandon McCarthy, but that’s another story… The characterization works, paradoxically perhaps, because Brendan’s piscean sensitivity and sweetness are completely at odds with Brandon’s belligerent pugnacity. Brilliant casting.

    Somebody please issue this on a decent DVD or Blu-ray!

    • The Vern says:

      Oh I agree Kristof. I would love to see this reissued on Criterion. All of the characters in this is great and Solondz does a great job with showing this. Both Dawn and Brandon are not that different from eachother in that they both have unhappy home lifes. Thanks so much for the comments. Thanks for reading

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