3 May 2005 | jotix100
"Welcome to the Dollhouse" was the introduction of an important voice in the American cinema. Todd Solondz's incisive study of a suburban family is one of the best indie films of the last decade. Having seen it in its theatrical release, we had the opportunity recently to take a new look at it. Mr. Solondz has created a picture of what cruelty does to a child, and how prevalent it is everywhere.
When we first meet the Wieners, living in suburban New Jersey, they appear to be the ideal family. Both parents, on the surface, look normal, but in watching them closely we come to the conclusion they are not. Some couples are not meant to be parents and the Wieners, obviously, while supportive of the older son, Mark, and the cute younger daughter, Missy, turn a blind eye toward Dawn, their middle daughter who is going through a hard time as she starts junior high school.
Not only is Dawn an unhappy girl, but she is the object of cruelty in the hands of the other students, both in her class, and in her school, in general. We watch as Brandon, the punkish boy, begins to taunt Dawn in his own sadistic way. Other girls come right out and ask Dawn whether she is a lesbian. There's also another girl that terrorizes her when both meet in the school bathroom. Every time Dawn tries to rebel, it turns out in disaster. Her school teacher doesn't even see anything wrong with Dawn, who is obviously affected by all she is experiencing at this crucial moment.
Dawn hits a nerve with Brandon when she calls him a retard. Little does she know his own brother is mentally challenged. Usually in the case of bullies like Brandon, they are acting up their frustrations by taking it on others they perceive as weaker, which is why he thinks he can do anything to Dawn because she will never do anything to him.
In a scene that gives cruelty a new name, we watch as the Wieners are having dinner one night. When Dawn contradicts something her mother has said, she is punished by not getting her dessert. We watch in total disbelief as the other Wieners begin to eat and Dawn's slice of chocolate cake remains near her mother until Missy asks to share that piece with Mark.
Dawn only has a friend. The young boy who shares her interests in hanging out in the dollhouse in the Wiener's backyard. When the hunky Steve Rogers joins Mark's band, Dawn discovers an irresistible attraction toward this loser. Dawn turns against her only friend and will call him names that we all realize is her own way to deal with emotions she has no control on. Instead of finding happiness among her peers, Dawn only encounters scorn and ridicule.
In Heather Matarazzo, the director found a young talent to give life to Dawn Wiener. Ms. Matarazzo has a peculiar kind of beauty, but she is made to wear horrible clothes to capture the essence of this sad young teen. Ms. Matarazzo under the guidance of Mr. Solondz makes an appealing Dawn. This young actress gave her character a range of emotions that even older, and more accomplished, actress wouldn't have given to this lost soul.
The rest of the cast is perfect. Brendan Sexton plays Brendan, the boy from a poor and broken home that has to deal with the blow life has given him. Angela Pietropinto as Mrs. Wiener is seen as the mother from hell. Mattew Faber and Daria Kalinina play Dawn's siblings.
This was a film that put Todd Solondz on the map. As he has shown with later films, he is a voice to be reckoned with in the independent cinema.