Welcome to the Dollhouse is a 1995 American coming of age independent black comedy film. It launched the careers of Todd Solondz (who directed, produced & wrote the film) and Heather Matarazzo (who played the lead character in the film).
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the entire movie.
Eleven-year-old Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) is a shy, unattractive, unpopular seventh grader living in a middle-class suburban community in New Jersey.
Her 17-year-old brother Mark (Matthew Faber) is a nerdy, snooty high school student who plays clarinet in a garage band and shuns girls in order to prepare for college. Dawn's younger sister, 8-year-old Missy (Daria Kalinina), is a spoiled, manipulative little girl who pesters Dawn and dances happily all around the house in a tutu.
Their mother (Angela Pietropinto) is a shrewish, overbearing woman who dotes on Missy and always sides with her in disputes with Dawn. Their father (Bill Buell) is a meek, immature, selfish man who always sides with Dawn's mother in her arguments with Dawn.
Dawn's only friend is an effeminate fifth-grade boy named Ralphy (Dimitri DeFresco) with whom she shares a dilapidated clubhouse in her backyard.
Dawn's life in junior high school is miserable; she is ridiculed and her locker is covered in graffiti. After her teacher unfairly keeps her after school, she is threatened with rape by a bully named Brandon McCarthy (Brendan Sexton III), who has almost as much trouble socializing as she does. Her attempts to take out her frustrations only get her into trouble.
At home, Dawn's mother punishes her for calling Missy a lesbian and refusing to be nice to her. At school, Dawn gets suspended for three days after she accidentally hits a teacher in the eye with a spitball while trying to hit some boys blowing spitballs at her.
Brandon's first attempt to rape Dawn after school fails, but he orders her to meet him again or he will come to her house. After she complies, he takes her to an abandoned field. He starts an earnest conversation with her and does not rape her, he only kisses her.
Meanwhile, Mark's band is joined by Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), a charismatic and handsome aspiring teenage rock musician who agrees to play in the band in exchange for Mark's help in computer science class.
Dawn falls for him and decides to pursue him romantically after he spends some time with her, even though one of Steve's former girlfriends tells Dawn that she has no chance of being with him.
Over the next several months, Dawn and Brandon form an innocent romance. Later, Brandon is arrested and expelled from school for suspected drug dealing. Dawn comes over to his house to visit him and learns that his home life is even worse than hers; Brandon has an abusive and alcoholic widowed father and a mentally challenged older brother who requires constant supervision.
After kissing Dawn, Brandon then runs away to avoid being sent to military school. After angrily rejecting Ralphy, Dawn is left with no friends. When she refuses to tear down her clubhouse to make room for her parents' 20th wedding anniversary party, her mother has Mark and Missy destroy it and gives them her share of a cake.
At the party, Dawn intends to proposition Steve, but gets cold feet and is contemptuously rebuffed. Steve plays with Missy, who pushes Dawn into a kiddie pool. That evening, the family watches a videotape of the party, laughing when Dawn falls into the water. Dawn is completely humiliated, but her parents continue to be oblivious to her unhappiness.
That night, Dawn angrily smashes the tape and briefly brandishes her hammer over Missy as she sleeps, but she goes to bed without harming Missy. Dawn's ultimate personal disaster happens a few weeks later when her father's car breaks down and her mother has to pick him up from his workplace. Dawn is supposed to tell Missy to find a ride home from ballet class while their mother is away.
However, Missy argues with Dawn, (who retaliates by not telling her) with the result being that Missy is kidnapped while she is walking home alone. When Missy's tutu is found in Times Square, Dawn goes to New York City hoping to find her.
After a full day and night of searching for Missy, Dawn phones home to check up on what is going on and Mark tells her that Missy has been found by the police after she was abducted by a pedophile neighbor who lives on their street.
After Dawn returns home, she is further appalled when she sees that both of her parents were too preoccupied with Missy's kidnapping ordeal to even notice Dawn's own absence.
Later, Dawn's classmates make fun of her as she gives a thank you speech in the assembly hall. It is only after the principal tells the unruly students to be quiet, Dawn musters the emotional strength to finish her speech and makes a quick exit.
Summer arrives and Dawn is relieved that her painful ordeal at school is over, at least for the duration of the school break. However, nothing changes in Dawn's life. Mark tells Dawn that she cannot expect school life to get any better until she starts high school. Rightfully believing that her parents do not care about her as they continue to mistreat and ignore her, Dawn signs herself up to attend a summer camp in Florida.
On a school trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, Dawn sits among other girls from her school and obediently joins them in singing the school anthem. Unnoticed, her voice slowly trails off as she sits looking out a bus window to ponder her uncertain future.
- Heather Matarazzo as Dawn Wiener
- Matthew Faber as Mark Wiener
- Daria Kalinina as Missy Wiener
- Angela Pietropinto as Mrs. Wiener
- Bill Buell as Mr Wiener
- Brendan Sexton III as Brandon McCarthy
- Eric Mabius as Steve
- Dimitri DeFresco as Ralphy
- Victoria Davis as Lolita
- Christina Brucato as Cookie
- Christina Vidal as Cynthia
- Amouris Rainey as Darla
- Siri Howard as Chrissy
- Telly Pontidis as Jed
"Welcome to the Dollhouse" was a surprise success, considering that it was a relatively low budget, independently produced film.
It garnered critical praise for its nail-biting view of a pre-teen outcast, and won the Grand Jury Prize for best dramatic feature at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival.
Critic Roger Ebert was vocal about his love for the film, giving it four stars out of four and placing it at No. 5 on his "Best of 1996" list.
The film currently holds a 90% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which states, "Twelve-year-old Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) is perhaps the most put-upon adolescent in film history in Todd Solondz's bitterly hilarious black comedy Welcome to the Dollhouse."