We all can relate to the teenage years, when we could barely grasp the realities of the world, while not being fully mentally prepared to face them. Adolescence is a period when we discover ourselves and the people around us, experimentation and rebellion is a period of realisation and exactly that makes the teenage dream a dangerous fantasy, sometimes.
This is what the film `Welcome to the Dollhouse` directed by Todd Solondz brings forth the ugly and the not so glamourized part of coming of age, the bullying and the contradictions some kids face when stepping into adulthood. Following common teenage film tropes as first love, the antisocial, unpopular girl, the bad boy-nerd couple and so on, one would expect the film to be another happy-go-lucky, happy-ending screenplay, maybe with the nerd becoming the popular princess of the school. However, Solondz adds a grim twist to the story, by giving it a neutral ending.
The Plot of the Film:
`Welcome to the Dollhouse` follows the story of Dawn Weiner, an eleven-and-a-half-year-old girl from middle-class New Jersey. She has an older brother Mark, representative of the trope of the nerd and a little pageant-queen sister, a manipulative and egotistical little girl and the apple of her parent’s eye. Dawn is the typical antisocial, bullied girl, who tries to get a boyfriend from the desolate suburban school she goes to.
She is hated at school and neglected at home, following another trope specific to the teenage genre. She falls in love with a typical joke who smashes teenage girls and aspires to form a couple with him. Finally, the bully of the school will fall in love with her and they become a couple for a short period of time until they break up because of Dawn’s aspiration. So far`Welcome to the Dollhouse` is nothing spectacular, it does not bring anything to the table and resembles a typical teenage film about sexual desire, couples and the war between nerds and popular kids. However, the grim elements are what make `Welcome to the Dollhouse` chilling and relatable.
`Welcome to The Dollhouse`- The Scary Truth of The Film:
The grim elements Solondzo put in his movie are inspired by real instances of life, a fact which makes this film stand out. Firstly, we have a toxic relationship between egotistical parents who try to show off and mimic a perfect family dynamic while neglecting and bullying the older, less attractive children, a dynamic which influences the toxic relationship between the brothers, to the point of Dawn wanting to murder her little sister, out of jealousy.
A second interesting topic included in the film is the less discussed `pretty privilege` and how prevalent is in our society, one of the conclusions of the film is bluntly stating: you can gain everything you desire in life, without a lot of work, if you are pretty, a statement quite shocking even to this day.
Thirdly, what this film does best is keeping a neutral background. There is no magical transformation in the relationship between parent and child or siblings, there is no magical glow-up or a wonderful love story of immortal desire. On the contrary, the characters fall flat, the only progress and regress happen to secondary characters, like Missy, Dawn’s little sister (for she becomes a local legend by being abducted and later saved from a paedophile) and to Dawn’s ex-boyfriend, Brandon the bully (who runs away from his abusive home after being threatened with military school).
The final unique touch of the movie is the critique brought to the American Beauty Pageant obsession by introducing the abduction of little Missy by a local paedophile. This scene might have been inspired by a real, still-unsolved murder case of the Beauty Pageant Queen from 1990, Jonbenet Ramsey, who visually and vividly resembles the character of Missy, thus adding to the grim veracity of the film.
Fortunately though, in the film, Missy is saved and unharmed, proving once again that the most liked character in the film will most likely be safe at the end of the day. Another thing that Solondz does is create very dislikable characters, being virtually impossible to fully embrace a character. They are very flawed humans, who most of the time make mistakes, who are bullied and who bully.
What this film masterfully creates is a constant tension, you never get to release, it creates a neutral, non-spectacular ending when the viewer most probably demands a happy one. And in my opinion, this is what makes this film so great, as at no moment are you given the hope and aspiration to a better outcome. Just like in life, bad things happen one after another and you most likely will be unable to get a positive outcome out of it.
It sounds depressing, I know and I`m terribly sorry for that, but in my opinion `Welcome to the Dollhouse` is great because it shows the reality of the times and brings awareness to hidden problems teenagers may facewhile telling us that unfairness is just another facet of life, we HAVE to be aware of. Do give `Welcome to the Dollhouse` a try and tell me what you made of it!