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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/11/00

Welcome to the Dollhouse
1995 (1999) - Columbia TriStar

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Welcome to the Dollhouse Film Rating: A

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 humor.

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 viewing.

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.

Dan Kelly
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