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Film / Welcome to the Dollhouse

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Welcome to the Dollhouse is a 1995 Coming of Age black comedy film written, produced and directed by Todd Solondz. The film stars Heather Matarazzo in her breakout role and was also Solondz's breakout film, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival.

Dawn Wiener (Matarazzo) is an unpopular, unattractive seventh grader whose family treats her as just as much of an outcast. She has great difficulty making friends and is almost always the target of cruel and isolating behavior from her peers. At home, she is the least favorite of the three Wiener children, a fact that is often exploited by her younger tutu-wearing sister Missy (the apple of their parents' eye) in order to get her in trouble. Dawn goes through life in a quiet and awkward state of mind.

One day, Dawn's older brother Mark brings over a high school senior named Steve Rodgers to tutor him in exchange for Steve playing in Mark's band. Upon meeting, Dawn becomes infatuated with the older boy and develops a crush on him. Things get even more complicated for her as one of her classmates Brandon antagonizes her more and more, mostly because he has feelings for her.

While Palindromes is considered a nominal sequel, Wiener-Dog was released in 2016.

Not to be confused with the TV series Dollhouse.

This film provide examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: They're either sadistic like Dawn's mother and teacher or ineffectual like her father and principal.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Dawn. She's unattractive, shy, and extremely unpopular, frequently bullied at school, and has exactly one friend. Even in her own family, she's treated like garbage.
  • Berserk Button: Don't call Brandon a retard. Dawn later learns that he's sensitive about the insult because his own brother is mentally disabled.
  • Black Comedy: Darker than the darkest death metal band playing in a pitch-black abyss populated by Eldritch Abominations who hold teens in a state of And I Must Scream while shouting "bloody murder" in a collective groan composed of the cries of dying children. Ah, The '90s...
  • Black Comedy Rape: A number of examples.
    • Brandon arranges ahead of time that he was going to rape Dawn. He calls her house to reschedule when it doesn't work out the first time. He doesn't actually go through with it and instead kisses her.
    • Missy is kidnapped by a pedophile neighbor. He doesn't seem to have done anything to her, however, beyond filming her pirouette in her tutu.
    • Mary Ellen Moriarity, a girl who spoke at Dawn's school about the dangers of talking to strangers, was kidnapped while memorizing her lines for "Hello Dolly." It is also hinted that she may have been raped.
  • Butt-Monkey: Dawn is a rather dark, humorous example. Extreme is not strong enough a word.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Unlike her tormenters, Dawn pays dearly the few times she tries to fight back, as when she gets in trouble with the principal for hitting a teacher with a spitball meant for Brandon. Her odious mother actually tells her that she has no right to fight back.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Dawn's an insecure and unloved Pinball Protagonist who's trapped in a downward spiral of misery who's either unable or unwilling to improve her situation.
  • Crapsack World: Well, it is a Todd Solondz movie.
  • Downer Ending: In the end, nothing at all has improved for Dawn, and she's in the exact same miserable state as before — only this time she's utterly friendless and goes along with the Disney trip because there's no point to do anything but fit in.
    • Made even worse in the semi-sequel Palindromes when it's revealed that Dawn killed herself in the end.
    • Averted in Wiener-Dog, which through a Retcon or Alternate Universe, throws her massive bone and implies she may very well be on the way to getting her happy ending. Dawn has grown up, gotten a steady job as a veterinary nurse, and managed to reunite and reconnect with Brandon.
  • Dreadful Musician: Mark and his band are completely talentless, and only Steve brings them slightly above horrible into something only kind of awful.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Dawn is rejected from every table in the school cafeteria, the scene to purely encapsulate the mood of the movie it was used in the trailer as well.
  • Extreme Doormat: Dawn couldn't stand up for herself. She does try to on a couple of occasions but just gets in worse trouble.
  • Family Portrait of Characterization: In one scene, a portrait of the Wiener family where they are posed properly (if with an artificial air) is shown. In the background, we can hear Dawn arguing with her parents; in contrast to their well-dressed selves in the portrait, they are dressed in gaudy clothes.
  • For the Evulz: Seemingly the raison d'etre of anyone who makes Dawn miserable. For instance, the whole reason why Lolita wanted to watch Dawn take a dump was simply because she could.
  • The Ghost: Missy doesn't appear in the sequel and is only brought up in conversation.
  • Held Back in School: Implied with Steve, who looks and acts much older than an average high schooler.
  • Henpecked Husband: Dawn's father comes across this way. When he tells her to listen to her mother and "make things easier on herself," it's as though he's speaking from experience.
  • Hope Spot: Ironically, Missy's abduction. For a little while, it even looks like Dawn is now appreciated by her family at least, and Dawn herself seems to be resolved to take her life into her own hands.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Seriously, almost nobody in this film is a good person and nearly everyone abuses Dawn or treats her like garbage. She's either being ignored or abused wherever she goes.
  • Iconic Outfit: The outfit Dawn wears at her parents' anniversary party shows her stomach and is the most memorable outfit of the film, appearing on the poster.
  • Imagine Spot: Used when Dawn goes to New York after her sister is kidnapped. She imagines finding Missy and her life instantly improving.
  • I'm Going to Disney World!: In a brief phone conversation between Dawn's mother and an unknown friend, it's brought up that Dawn is supposed to be going on a trip to Disney World with the school glee club to the mother's bewilderment, and she confides in her friend that she doesn't understand why Dawn would apparently NOT want to go on the trip. In the end, Dawn is on the school bus with the choir traveling on the interstate. Though it's not said where it was going, it can be assumed that Dawn was forced to go to Disney World with her classmates after all.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Everything Dawn wears, but a lot of the other characters too. It's a Todd Solondz movie, after all.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Dawn's classmates represent one of the most accurate portrayals of middle schoolers in film history. Dawn is flat-out told that she's hated because she's ugly and she's constantly bullied. At home, Missy isn't much better and constantly pesters her.
    • Lolita. One wonders what the other kids see in her.
  • Kubrick Stare: Lolita gives a particularly frightening one during her introductory scene.
  • Junior High: The events take place during Dawn's middle school experience. It's a school period notorious for being uncomfortable and cruel for many, making it a nigh-perfect setting for what she's going through.
  • Loser Protagonist: Dawn. One look at her is enough to know she's going to be bullied quite heavily: she's unattractive, shy, dresses poorly, and almost entirely friendless.
  • Love Triangle: Lolita likes Brandon. Brandon likes Dawn. Dawn kind of likes Brandon, but is completely infatuated with Steve.
  • Loving Bully: Brandon torments Dawn because he likes her.
  • Meaningful Name: The Alpha Bitch character's name is Lolita.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Dawn. Her older brother gets attention for preparing to go to college and her younger sister is the pretty favorite. Her parents don't care about her and never even notice when she's missing.
  • Middle School Is Miserable: Dawn Wiener is an awkward 12-year-old girl that is the epitome of "uncool" and suffers for it. Many students, and a teacher as well, take sadistic pleasure in bullying Dawn and all while the other adults that should be looking out for her often turn a blind eye to the problems she's facing in school.
  • More Insulting than Intended: Dawn calls Brandon a "retard", unaware that Brandon has a brother with Downs Syndrome.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: In the semi-sequel Palindromes, Mark has wholeheartedly embraced nihilism.
  • Parental Favoritism: Dawn's parents, especially her mother, adore Missy and prefer her to the other two kids.
  • Photos Lie: The film opens with a close up of a family portrait of the Wiener family in which everyone is beaming happily at the camera (poor Dawn especially).
  • Precocious Crush: Dawn was crushing hard on Steve, despite him being much older than her.
  • Sadist Teacher: Dawn's teacher who gives her a detention for no good reason and makes her read out loud an essay to the class about grade-grubbing.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: Steve who is a self-absorbed, inconsiderate thief.
  • Secret Relationship: Brandon threatens Dawn to keep their relationship a secret. No one finds out, except for maybe Ralphy who was spying on them in her clubhouse.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Despite all her trials and tribulations, Dawns' situation has not improved by the end of the movie. She's just as miserable as she was before. When you take Palindromes into account, it becomes a Shoot the Shaggy Dog story as Dawn's life only gets worse before she finally kills herself.
  • Shrinking Violet: Dawn is very shy and quiet, part of the reason she has no friends.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Dawn herself in the movie's loose sequel Palindromes. She went to college, gained a lot of weight, became pregnant from date rape, and died by suicide. So much for life improving as she gets older, but maybe now, they will leave you alone.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Dawn gets a very tiny one, when the principal shuts the audience up so that Dawn can finish her speech.
  • The Un-Favorite: Dawn and, at least in relation to her sister Missy and brother Mark. Her mother openly favors Missy, but Dawn in particular gets the short end of the stick, such as when her clubhouse gets torn down.
  • Troubled Abuser: Brandon is the meanest bully in school, probably because of his traumatic home life. He has an alcoholic, misogynistic, widowed father; a special needs brother who needs constant supervision; and is poor.