Welcome to the Dollhouse

Director: Todd Solondz

Given that most movies can’t wait to recount the glorious experience that was adolescence, Welcome to The Dollhouse comes as a genuine treat. Winner of the grand prize at the 1995 Sundance festival, the second feature from former English teacher Todd Solondz takes the entire genre and turns it on its head. The result is a refreshing black comedy, destined to provoke a nervous reaction among all those who couldn’t wait to turn their back on the classroom for good.
Life for 11-year-old Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) is far from easy, blessed as she is with an eye-damaging wardrobe, a worrying lack of social skills, and siblings (computer nerd brother, ballerina sister) more accomplished at everything and more popular with her parents than she is. Over the course of one nightmare school year she withstands constant taunts while her childish naivete sees her strangely drawn to her brother’s slacker friend Steve (Eric Mabius), an episode which results in a painfully embarrassing attempt to get into his hipsters.
Most of the appeal hinges on Dawn as she lurches from one moment of pre-pubescent awkwardness to another, buoyed by the thin hope that things might get better in high school.
The sense of humour throughout is deliciously dark (upped a notch by some ironically placed classical music), and the all-too-familiar topics of peer group pressure and conformity tackled with sympathy, while Matarazzo (11 at the time of filming) offers up an astonishingly mature performance that suggests hers will be a name to watch.

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