"fantastically satirical, and at times, extremely dark take on the white picket-fenced American nuclear family"
Welcome to the Dollhouse is a caustically dark comedy based on the trials and tribulations of an 11-year-old misfit overshadowed by her all-American little sister and academically focused big brother. Her dystopian wooden shed – clearly made without any assistance from her family, and home to the ‘Special People Club’ – is under threat of demolition from her family, and serves as a metaphor for her isolated and diasporic existence.
The movie focuses on harrowingly dark themes, adopting a comedic tone that challenges your moral fibre (can I laugh at this? I shouldn’t, and yet I’m laughing), while also confronting the generic binary plot lines of Good vs. Bad, Bully vs. Victim.
Our protagonist, the aptly named Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo), is infatuated with the dreamy front man of her big brother’s high school garage band, but finds herself forming a relationship with the school bully. His perpetual torment includes threatening to rape her; an act of apparent machismo no less harrowing given an apparent attempt is thwarted by an unassuming janitor.
Although clearly playing second fiddle to her little sister, sympathy for Dawn is diminished when her considerations of actually killing her sister almost come to fruition, albeit indirectly, when she fails to pass on a note informing her sister that her parents will not pick her up from school, and she is instead abducted.
The epic Wagneresque music played when the news of the little sister’s tutu being found – with no sister inside – removes any sentimentality within the context, and instead reinforces the dark humour that permeates throughout the movie. When she is found safely, Dawn, is herself alone and vulnerable in New York trying to find her sister, which her family find inconsequential given the return of the favoured daughter – and so normal service resumes in the Weiner household.
Welcome to the Dollhouse is a fantastically satirical, and at times, extremely dark take on the white picket-fenced American nuclear family, where the bullied don’t find enlightenment but seek, to an extent, to participate.