Welcome to the Dollhouse

You Have 90 Minutes To Comply 2: Brevity Rules

A shotgun blast to the face to anyone who still suggests that school days are the best days of your life, Welcome to the Dollhouse is also probably the best film I've watched in this project so far.

My continual complaining about school-set films that focus on bullying generally centres around the fact that the events in these films don't ring true in terms of the way they come about or are settled. I've come to the conclusion that the majority of filmmakers who have made films containing school bullying were never bullied themselves and actually were probably the bullies, considering the shallow, almost playful treatment this subject normally gets.

Todd Solondz gets it though. The treatment of Heather Matarazzo gets right to the heart of the pointless, simplistic cruelty of school bullying. Picking on something, anything about a person and making it the one thing that almost everyone sees in that person. And then, when they get bored, they find something else in that kid. It comes on in relentless waves and never lets up and the teachers, frankly, couldn't give a shit.

Solondz is brutal and unrelenting with how he portrays it because if you've suffered through it and survived it, that's what it's like. But he goes one further here. He doesn't portray a survivor of such abuse winning over the bullies. There's no happy, triumphant ending here. Instead Matarazzo is viewed on a school bus at the end, almost assimilated into being one of the kids, succumbing to the pressures of daring to be or look different.

He also doesn't shy away from portraying her negative behaviour as well. Her brutal shunning of her former best friend comes about as a result of her desperation to be liked by anyone, her mind warped that hanging around with that Ralphy isn't the way for that to happen. She indirectly gets her sister kidnapped and believes the same stuff that everyone else does about Brandon, with him rightly despairing and suggesting she's just like everyone else. Which she both wants to be and doesn't want to be.

There are plenty of laughs to be had, usually in the superbly down-to-Earth dialogue but also in the little details around the family home. Being made to sit at the dinner table until you've told your sister you love her, the bedroom door that sticks on the carpet, the withholding of dessert - just little facets of family life that mount up and cause further frustration and hurt themselves.

The fact that it is so funny in some ways makes it a harder and more uncomfortable watch. Like Solondz is actually pointing the camera back at us and saying, "Oh, you laughed at that, huh? Then you're part of the problem too". It's a bold, harsh and probably very truthful statement and one that I think we should be thankful that someone had the craft and heart to make.

Steve G liked these reviews