Sony Pictures Classics | Release Date: March 22, 1996
7.6
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Generally favorable reviews based on 17 Ratings
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8
SpangleJan 18, 2017
Welcome to the Dollhouse has to be one of the most painful films to watch. For the entirety of the film, it is social awkward outcast Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) navigating the minefields of middle school, bullying, and first love. SheWelcome to the Dollhouse has to be one of the most painful films to watch. For the entirety of the film, it is social awkward outcast Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) navigating the minefields of middle school, bullying, and first love. She does all of these while being the middle child upstaged by her bratty and selfish younger sister and bullied by her older brother. Her life is not easy and she is ill-equipped to handle it, being as she is incredibly awkward and timid. The ensuing film is cringy and relies upon this black comedy awkward humor that really only accentuates the awkward nature of our lead character. Yet, in doing so, director Todd Solondz creates an incredibly relatable and sympathetic character that exists in a film so real, so authentic, and so intimate, it is hard to look away.

The crowning achievement of this film is the writing. I have only seen one Solondz before this - Storytelling - but it is clear that he has an impetus to write awkward characters who say awkward things. Yet, these awkward things are real. As Dawn fumbles around after high school boy Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), it feels authentic. These are real people experiencing real issues with growing up. Dawn really emphasizes this when betraying her younger sister, rebuking her mother, or running off. She is unhappy in this world and in her suburban lifestyle where she is overlooked by her parents and rejected by her siblings. At school, she is mocked with her locker being vandalized on the front and her being constantly called **** or "wiener dog" (also the title of Solondz's 2016 feature...). As a middle child, she is lost and forgotten by all around her, left to toil in a life she lives reluctantly.

The saddest portion of this film comes, however, when Dawn's youngster sister Missy is kidnapped. The result of Dawn not giving her a note regarding who is to pick her up, Missy is kidnapped by a neighbor. Dawn's mother is distraught. Dawn's father suffers a nervous breakdown. The family is falling apart at the seems. Dawn hates this family, yet she is going to fight for it all the same. Trudging out on her own to find Missy, the 12-year old Dawn goes throughout the city hanging posters and sleeps outside for a night. Yet, by the time she calls home, Missy is found and her mother is too distracted granting interviews to talk to Dawn on the phone. One of her daughters is missing, but Dawn's mother could care less and is more focused on Missy and satisfying her own ego. By night time, they all watch the news to see Missy's interview. This sequence is incredibly tragic and really defines Dawn's character as being one that is forgotten.

Of course, she is hardly alone. In her time in middle school, she befriends Brandon (Brendan Sexton III), a troubled boy with a horrible home life. Living in a dilapidated home with a down syndrome brother and neglectful brother, Brandon has a tough life. Yes, he threatens to rape Dawn, but it is likely a misunderstanding of the word or the concept, as by the end of the film, he has shown himself to be just as tragic as Dawn. Overlooked and just written off as a failure by adults and fellow students, Brandon has a good heart somewhere, just buried under a thick emotional shield. When he opens up - offering a girl named Cookie a cookie as a birthday gift - he is rebuffed and his "cheap" gift is tossed aside. Brandon is very much like Dawn, just leading a less privileged lifestyle. Rejected and an outcast, the two find solace in one another, but it is never meant to last.

A melancholy black comedy film about adolescence, Welcome to the Dollhouse is an incredibly authentic and moving film that never mocks its characters. Instead, it merely presents their lives and allows the audience to come to their own assessment. Often tragic and always intimate, Welcome to the Dollhouse is a cry for help from the socially awkward, social outcasts, and overlooked/forgotten children of the world. Tenderly written, terrifically acted, and thoroughly enjoyable throughout, Welcome to the Dollhouse is a worthy calling card for its quirky and awkward director.
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9
ScraperJan 10, 2012
Brilliant. It's hard to find other words for this well-thought, nuanced, aching picture. A good movie for young folks as the ideas of attractiveness and self-worth become so exaggerated and distorted during the pubescent years.
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10
JoshCNov 20, 2006
A Massterpiece ! One of the best films of 1996. Funny, touching, and all around wonderful. It figures that a smug, self-important blowhard like Rosenbaum would give this a negative review.
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