Welcome to the Dollhouse. Plenty of cringe-inducing moments in this one, plus some really great performances from the young actors. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1996 Sundance.
Welcome to the Dollhouse is, quite simply, about how much it sucks to be a kid. Written entirely from the perspective of one unhappy girl, every scene is intentionally exaggerated to emphasize just how unfair her world is. Her parents don’t love her as much as her siblings, her teachers don’t appreciate her effort, and all the kids at school think she’s ugly. She’s every 12-year-old girl who ever lived.
The film actually does a good job of portraying the awkwardness, disappointment, and unfairness that, all combined, pretty much define the early teen years. The kids definitely give decent performances, and the atmosphere really is effective. Even the conflicted bully from a bad home is believable.
Unfortunately, the film’s intention is ambiguous because its aim is slightly off. As an affirmation that all kids feel the world is unfair, Welcome to the Dollhouse would be a worthwhile lesson for most children. The problem is that the film isn’t actually meant for children – the message is delivered too subtly. It’s only recognizable through hindsight to someone who’s already lived it and survived well enough to look back rationally; only an adult is going to understand what the film is saying. On the other hand, the lesson is wasted on an older audience for exactly the same reason. If you can understand the message, you don’t need to learn the lesson.
Maybe I just have a thicker skin than Jesse, but I didn’t find much in the way of ‘cringe-inducing moments’ either. I could recognize that a character felt awkward, but it didn’t translate to me being uncomfortable for them. At most I felt sorry for the girl in a ‘don’t worry, you’ll understand when you’re older’ kind of way.
This one gets 5/10. I wasn’t bored, and the production was good all around. But it didn’t give me anything to think about.