Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

welcome to the dollhouse movie poster 1995
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Pitch perfect black comedy

Has to hit a person right

Movie Info

Movie Name: Welcome to the Dollhouse

Studio: Suburban Pictures

Genre(s): Comedy/Drama

Release Date(s):  September 10, 1995 (Toronto International Film Festival)/May 24, 1996 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

welcome to the dollhouse family dawn wiener heather matarazzo

And you think you’re family’s irritating sometimes?

Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) is struggling with middle school.  She’s not popular, she’s not smart, and everyone tells her that she’s ugly.  Dawn also struggles at home.  She isn’t cute like her little sister Missy (Daria Kalinina), smart like her brother Mark (Matthew Faber), and always seem to suffer the wrath of domineering mother (Angela Pietropinto) and submissive father (Bill Buell).  When Dawn falls in love with her brother’s new band member Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), she tries to impress him…while also trying avoiding her troubled classmate Brandon McCarthy (Brendan Sexton III) who has said he will rape her.

Written and directed by Todd Solondz, Welcome to the Dollhouse is a black-comedy.  The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1995 but wasn’t released in the United States until 1996.  It received critical acclaim and gained a cult following.

I was on-board on Welcome to the Dollhouse from the beginning.  I saw it as soon as I could and loved the dark humor.  With a horrid description that reads like a bad after school special or cautionary tale, the movie manages to be one of the funnier movies of the 1990s.

welcome to the dollhosue dawn wiener heather matarazzo dancing

Dawn’s a bit…off

To enjoy and have fun with this movie, you have to recognize that it is a black-comedy and not a drama.  If it were a drama, you’d question the flippant approach to things like abduction, assault, and rape.  The movie is like an augmented aspect of everything bad in the years of middle school.  Everyone knows a Dawn…someone who isn’t the geeky smart person, but the kind of “off” person from a family of people who are “off”.  You want to root for her because she’s an underdog but she makes it hard because she is unlikable as well.

The cast is perfect.  Matarazzo’s portrayal of Dawn combines with the script to make her uncomfortable.  She is vindictive, she copies others to make herself sound cool, and in general everyone seems against her (you get the idea that the film is almost her perception throughout).  The family, Steve Rodgers, and even Brandon are perfect fits for the movie and the world that Dawn lives in…and you feel you know people like them.

welcome to the dollhouse missy daria kalinina dawn wiener heather matarazzo

Suddenly, Dawn becomes Michael Myers

The movie also is rather stylish in its own way.  Much like someone like Wes Anderson who followed Solondz, Solondz has a look and style that is unique to his films.  Often you can watch a Solondz film and recognize it through how it is shot, the music cues, and the cast.  Welcome to the Dollhouse launched “his brand” and films he made following it, continued the style of this movie.

Welcome to the Dollhouse benefited from being on the cusp of the independent film boom of the 1990s.  There were other big independent films that came before it, but it was a film that benefited from word of mouth and smaller screenings.  I can go back and watch Welcome to the Dollhouse anytime and enjoy it for its humor and honest message about one of the worst times in growing up.  Dawn and her family have shown up in other films from Solondz including Life During Wartime, Wiener-Dog, and Palindromes (though usually portrayed by different actors).

Related Links:

Happiness (1998)

Storytelling (2001)

Life During Wartime (2009)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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