Almost everyone remembers what it was like to be in seventh grade. "Welcome To The Dollhouse" is a witty, satirical look into the mind of Dawn Wiener, a wayward, sexually confused loner, played by big-screen newcomer Heather Matarazzo.
From "Dollhouse's" opening credits on, director Todd Solondz makes the viewer very aware of the characteristics of the family members, all seemingly trapped in a bizarre '70s time warp. The film begins at the primary locale, Benjamin Franklin Junior High. Dawn has just left the lunch line, and is looking for a place to sit. When she finds a place, she becomes the object of a vicious, yet sophomoric, verbal assault. Such is life for Dawn. Insults are painted all over her locker, while no other lockers are defaced; her mother appears to pay little attention to her while her younger sister, Missy (Daria Kalinina), is the center of her parents' attention. Throughout the film, Dawn's life goes from bad to worse. She falls in love with an older guy, Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), who has just joined her older brother's band, The Quadratics. As one might guess, her love is unrequited. To make matters worse, she is sexually harassed at school by a classmate, Brandon McCarthy. Later, however, Dawn finds out that he is a drug user, and is to be sent to a reform school. She also finds that he is more similar to her than she thinks, and almost tries to befriend him. However, it is too late, and he is gone, leaving her more confused than before.
Good performances are turned in by the cast, especially Dawn's brother Mark (Matthew Faber) and her mother (Angela Pietropinto). The film captures the essence of preteen angst through the eyes of a preteen. However, an underdeveloped and poorly acted father (Bill Buell), coupled with the excessive use of profanity, pulls the film down.
For all the good acting, and generally good writing, perhaps its weakest point is the ending, which is inconclusive and seems very abrupt. There is little (or no) resolution of Dawn's inner conflicts, and there are many loose ends that are not tied up. Overall, however, the film is a well-acted, well-written, yet disturbing look at what those "tender years" are like for one student. "Dollhouse" reminds us of a time that few of us would like to relive.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.