Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 4/11/00
Welcome to the
1995 (1999) - Columbia
review by Dan Kelly of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B/C-
Specs and Features
87 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full
frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case
packaging, production notes, cast and crew bios and filmographies,
theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28
chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Spanish,
and French, Closed Captioned
There have been few
movies in recent years that have been as unflinchingly honest as
Welcome to the Dollhouse. In
simple, clever strokes, director/writer Todd Solondz has painted a
picture of junior high school and puberty that, up until now, has
largely been shown with warm nostalgia. What we get instead, is a
film ripe with aching realism and laced with good doses of dark
Enter the world of Dawn Wiener (the wonderful Heather Matarazzo), a
world where a dreadful name (that lends itself so easily to insults)
is only the beginning of your troubles. Dawn is also awkward to an
embarrassing degree. Her hair is greasy and without style, her
glasses are heavy, her clothes are laughable and uncoordinated and
her only friend is Ralphie, the runt of the school. Dawn's
friendship with Ralphie is not one that is necessarily built on
respect and like for each other. Their's is a friendship of
delegation - they're both nerdy social outcasts whose only option
for friendship is each other.
At school, Dawn is THE outcast. She is taunted by nearly everyone,
even by other outcasts. The reasoning for their constant barrage of
insults and cruel tricks? She's ugly. At least, that's what she's
told by one of the biggest bullies, in one of the movie's more
unpleasant scenes. Brandon (Brendan Sexton, Jr.), the school bully,
has a very scary way of showing Dawn he cares. He throws spit balls
at her, holds her at knife-point, and makes an appointment to "rape"
her after school. A scene like this could go terribly off track, but
it's handled well by Solondz. It's done with enough clumsy
pre-adolescent sensitivity to make it work, while not throwing off
the integrity of the movie.
But poor Dawn's troubles don't end there. Dawn has what we
home-psychotherapists call the "Jan Brady Syndrome". She
is the mistreated, misunderstood, and often ignored middle child.
Unlike Jan Brady, Dawn's fears about the favoritism at home are
fully realized and not unfounded. Her little sister Missy dances
around the house in a tutu like a fairy, and is the apple of Mom and
Dad's eye. Older brother Mark (Matthew Faber) is the golden child,
and at such an early age, is so career and goal-oriented that he'd
make any parent proud.
When Mark puts together a college transcript-enhancing school rock
band, Dawn is introduced to Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius). Steve -
tall, attractive and popular - is the answer to all of Dawn's
budding sexuality problems. She worships him like a god, even
building an altar to him, and courts him with leftover fish sticks
and Ring Dings. She turns to her brother for advice, but he's more
interested in getting into a good school and has no time for girls.
As this new part of Dawn emerges, she creates more painful
situations for herself with even more embarrassing results. If
you're can laugh at the ugliness and strange obsessions that comes
out of the formative pre-teen years, Welcome
to the Dollhouse will entertain you for more than one
As is typical with most Columbia TriStar releases, Welcome
to the Dollhouse is offered on DVD in anamorphic-enhanced
widescreen. That's the good. The bad: the picture quality is not
that great. There is a significant amount of color bleed, which
leads to a picture that is not very sharp. There's also a lot of
shimmer to some of the more densely patterned interior scenes.
Occasionally, some artifacting is also evident, though this doesn't
happen frequently. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix is sufficient to
the movie's more conversation-oriented subject matter. It gets the
job done, but is by no means a superior sound achievement.
The extras included are the standard Columbia TriStar issues for
films that aren't given the special edition treatment. For reasons
unbeknownst to me, the theatrical trailer is in the 1.33:1 ratio.
Though the talent bios and production notes are welcome, they are by
no means thorough or extensive. However, Columbia should be
applauded for their efforts to put a lot of their more esteemed
catalogue titles on the market.
Welcome to the Dollhouse is
the type of movie that the Academy really likes to overlook. It's
certainly not the first movie to recount the daily horrors of
puberty, but there haven't been many that are this truthful and
witty. Most have made the awkwardness of growing up more digestible
and painted it in a much prettier light. But with its keen
observations about the pains of one pre-teen girl, this movie
manages to be very original and achingly funny. The fact that it
went award-less just proves what Dawn Wiener knew all along - being
unconventional and true to yourself doesn't guarantee you any
friends in the end.