Picks and Pans Review: Welcome to the Dollhouse
I have always believed, even during my own Clearasil years, that society should deep-freeze all kids between the ages of 12 and 18. This would save all of us the angst, confusion, screaming, hormonal overload and everything else that comes with the hell that is adolescence. Welcome to the Dollhouse, a hilarious but disturbing film that tells the story of one girl stumbling her way through seventh grade, would seem a potent argument for this form of cryogenics. The movie, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival for writer-director Todd Solondz, will have you cringing sympathetically at the same time that you're laughing. A slick romp like Clueless this is not.
In Dollhouse, seventh grade is a series of daily humiliations for Dawn Wiener (Matarazzo, a gifted young actress who ably carries the movie on her hunched-over shoulders). She's the least popular girl at her school in suburban New Jersey. Her classmates mockingly call her Wienerdog and deface her locker. Boys shoot spitballs at her during assembly. It's not much better at home, where her mother clearly favors little sister Missy, an angelic-looking child given to prancing about the front yard in a pink tutu, Dad has checked out emotionally, and her dorky older brother is too busy striving to get into a decent college to offer Dawn much help.
One of the major charms of Dollhouse is that Dawn takes none of this sitting down. She fights back, cutting off the head of Missy's favorite doll and shooting spitballs back at the boys (but managing only to hit a teacher). Whether you, like Dawn, were the kid in junior high who was picked on, did the picking (shame, shame!) or, like most of us, just stood by and, because you wanted desperately to fit in, did nothing, you'll walk out of this movie grateful you made it to eighth grade.(R)