Welcome to the Dollhouse – Blu-Ray Review

Back in 1989, Todd Solondz made a Woody-Allenesque comedy, Fear, Anxiety & Depression, for a studio—and promptly swore off filmmaking for the next few years. He was a ESL teacher to Russian immigrants in NY in-between that project and his second feature, Welcome to the Dollhouse, in 1995. He only gave filmmaking another shot because an attorney friend promised to partially fund any film he came up with. It must be nice to have attorney friends—I wish I had one!

In Welcome to the Dollhouse, Heather Matarazzo stars as Dawn Weiner, a bespectacled outsider and deeply unpopular seventh-grader (age 11-12, for you Brits). She wants to earn the respect of her fellow pupils, who bully her constantly, and of her family, who are utterly disinterested in her. It fluctuates between tragic drama and a pitch-black comedy of pre-teen angst in suburban New Jersey. Of course, with it being a Todd Solondz film, it touches on rape, paedophilia and emotional abuse, and isn’t afraid to make these subjects the punchline of jokes. Solondz would perfect his edgelord comedy with his next film, Happiness, which is undoubtably his masterpiece (it would near to impossible for him to ever to top it). In Happiness he takes on a lot of the taboo topics he included in Welcome to the Dollhouse and goes to an extent that still shocks many.

Welcome to the Dollhouse hasn’t aged as well as I had hoped. I hadn’t seen it in years, and while the writing is good, it isn’t as sharp as Happiness—which if you “get it” is a laugh riot. Solondz, however, has a distinctively askew worldview. He comes off as a deeply misanthropic Woody Allen type in interviews, but his films are closer to those of John Waters. However, Solondz doesn’t have the affection Waters has his characters, so his work is more mean-spirited. There is also an influence to be seen from Daniel Clowes and his Eightball comic book series: in Dawn you can definitely see some Enid, but an Enid who didn’t have Rebecca to have her back. Clowes would go on to draw the poster for Happiness.

Welcome to the Dollhouse signalled the arrival of a true one-off voice in American cinema, one who would peak with his next film. Solondz’s most recent film, Wiener-Dog, includes the return of Dawn Weiner—this time played by Greta Gerwig—and is worth seeing. Gerwig was fine, but Heather Matarazzo’s performance as Dawn was one for the ages. I’m glad Solondz is still working and has a new film on the way, Love Child, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. This one is reportedly his take on the Oedipus myth. The world of cinema would be a far less interesting place without him in it.

The disc from Radiance includes newly filmed interviews with Solondz and Matarazzo: the intervew with Matarazzo is the better of the two, and has more to say about the film, the impact it’s had on her life and career, and even her displeasure about not being asked to be in Weiner-Dog. The rest of the extras include a visual essay from Hannah Strong, the trailer, and a commentary track from BJ and Harmony Colangelo of the This Ends at Prom podcast. The booklet contains new writing on the film by A.S. Hamrah and Molly Lambert, archival pieces from Solondz and Julian Murphet, and extracts from contemporary writing on the film.


Ian Schultz

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