Film Review: Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

Release Date: September 10th, 1995 (TIFF)
Directed by: Todd Solondz
Written by: Todd Solondz
Music by: Jill Wisoff
Cast: Heather Matarazzo, Brendan Sexton III, Eric Mabius, Matthew Faber

Suburban Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Yo, Weiner, you better get ready, ’cause at three o’clock today, I’m gonna rape you!” – Brandon

I saw this a long time ago. In fact, I was probably about seventeen or eighteen when I got a copy of this at my neighborhood video store and decided to check it out, as I was really getting into American indies at the time.

What I remembered about this is that it starred Heather Matarazzo, who I really liked at the time as DJ’s girlfriend on Roseanne. Also, it left me feeling sad, angry but somewhat hopeful. Well, that effect still works, all these years later.

Welcome to the Dollhouse follows the life of a young middle school girl who is struggling with just about everything. Everyone in the entire film, literally everyone, treats her like she’s an afterthought or just bullies her for no real reason other than she’s awkward and not pretty. She really only has one friend, a younger boy, but eventually the pressure of everything causes her to then treat him like shit.

For anyone who had trouble of some sort while going through middle school, which is most of us, Welcome to the Dollhouse can be a pretty real experience. Granted, I hope no one ever had to go through what Dawn Weiner did in this film but the reality is that kids are pretty cruel to one another at the middle school age. In fact, Dawn’s older brother sums it up when she asks him if high school is any different and he says, “All of junior high school sucks. High school’s better; it’s closer to college. They’ll call you names, but not as much to your face.”

Heather Matarazzo was brilliant in this and she really became the role. You really just go through the film with a growing disdain for nearly every character because of how much Matarazzo is able to make you sympathize with her character. However, as much as you’ll hate the bully Brandon in the beginning, Brendan Sexton III plays that part so well that you feel for him and his situation by the end of the film. All these kid actors are pretty damn great and really carry the picture.

Welcome to the Dollhouse isn’t a great film but it is a much better than average coming of age drama mixed with a bit of comedy. It works because of the cast and because it is pretty real and gets darker than you might expect.

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