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Cinema Obscura

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You might hear a few heartless film critics refer to Welcome to the Dollhouse as a “dark comedy.” That’s a lie. This film (for-real working title: Fags and Retards) is straight-up horror, a stomach-turning exploration of human brutalilty, with fewer legitimate laughs than The Shining. More painful to watch, too, because where most scary films give us man’s evil in its purest, most bad-ass form (monsters, serial killers, Jack Nicholson), Dollhouse shows the sad limitations of society’s id, incapable of either true nobility or unadulterated ultraviolence, resorting instead to inflicting petty cruelties on its most vulnerable members.

Sadistically named adolescent Dawn Wiener (Matarazzo) is a character too real to be likable, remarkable only in her awkwardness and ugliness, and the film’s protagonist only by virtue of her near continuous screen presence. Dorky and shy, she sits at the bottom of the junior-high food chain and suffers for it. Students dub her “Wiener-dog” and vandalize her locker. Teachers dislike her, too, giving her detention for tattling and calling her parents when she attempts to “fight back.” Even her parents are no help, scolding her for standing up for herself and showing preferential treament to her younger, prettier sister. By the time a boy threatens to rape Dawn near the film’s middle, she feels so isolated she has nowhere to go but the vacant lot he leads her to. Funny stuff.

And you can expect no revenge-of-the-nerds finale. As is the case more often than we like to admit (especially when we’re escaping into a film world), Dawn releases her frustration and anger not on her tormentors but on those younger, smaller, and weaker than her — the very people she should sympathize with and befriend, in other words — guaranteeing she will grow up to be a lonely and bitter adult, another needlessly inhuman human being. You can buy this bleak masterpiece on DVD at amazon.com for $19.99, but you should probably just rent it, because you’ll never want to watch it again.


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