Posts Tagged john hughes

Review: Welcome to the Dollhouse

Dawn Wiener hated by everyone

If at the age of 12 or 13 you weren’t part of the popular in-crowd filled with perfect little miss sunshines, then you will appreciate what Dawn (Heather Matarazzo) is going through in this quasi coming age movie of a bullied junior highschooler. 

Welcome to the Dollhouse is about a girl in junior high who is as unpopular as can be. Everyone spits on her, from her school mates, to her teachers, her siblings and even her own parents. Every adult in this movie is an ugly human being and Dawn is caught amidst this ugliness, becoming one of its unfortunate victims.

No one likes Dawn; in fact, everyone hates her. When she asks one of her tormentors why she hates her so much, she responds “because you are ugly“.

That pretty much sums it all up, as all the people in Dawn’s life are mean to her and flat out assholes for no apparent reason. Her mother, her father, her brother, her teachers, her peers – and even her little sister whom I hated so much that in fact when she was kidnapped in the end I was actually hoping they had hurt her. Seeing a mere 7 year old be so mean already doesn’t leave much hope for the rest of us. Everyone, without exception, is mean and cruel to Dawn.

Sawing off Barbie’s head

I would not call this movie a comedy or particularly funny. It is actually filled with social commentary, is sad and while humorous at times, it is depressing to watch Dawn be surrounded by so much dislike and lack of love in her life.

The laughter that occasionally ensues is immediately muted by the completely bleak and sad situation Dawn is in. Even the  scene where she dreams she rescued her sister and everyone tells her they love her:  that wasn;t funny, that was tragic. This girl is so parched for love, she dreams it.

The director is very smart and knows what he is doing and he would never degrade this movie by inserting lame comedic relief in there. So the “humor” is not really humor, it is the sad theme strategically inserted,  underscoring Dawn’s plight, unhappiness and desolation. No wonder she is mean to those weaker than her, the girl doesn’t know anything else. All the adults in her life are despicable human beings presenting some of the worst qualities, so she can’t give what she never received.

There is one scene, after her sister has been kidnapped, where she tells her brother that their mom doesn’t want her to go to school today because she is afraid she might be kidnapped too, and her brother responds deridingly “yeah right“; exemplifying how worthless Dawn is made feel as her own brother doesn’t think she is even worth kidnapping.

“I hate you because you are ugly”

Welcome to the Dollhouse is a powerful movie; it is brutally honest and it will not sugarcoat junior high and being an unpopular-and-emotionally-abused 12 year-old experience for you.

The sad thing about it, of course, is that people really are like that in life. I could identify with Dawn in so many ways. When I was 12, I was wearing huge glasses and dorky clothes and didn’t fit in and just wasn’t popular at all and people in my school, including my teachers, made me feel worthless. I remember one time I was wearing a jacket with a big hood and this kid behind me in line slowly dumped his yogurt, spoon by spoon, into my hood while I was standing in line for lunch.

I guess director/writer Todd Solondz must have gone through similar humiliating experiences, which is why he was able to retell Dawn’s plight in such painful accuracy and so masterfully.

‘Today after school I am going to rape you

The ending is pretty strong as well because it is not a sappy, stupid Hollywood ending, but a real-life one. The character of Dawn, unlike the characters of many of the high school classics of the 80s that unduly idolize the school years – such as Sixteen CandlesPretty in PinkThe Breakfast Club and Can’t Buy Me Love etc. – doesn’t come out of age, or grows as a person, is now popular or suddenly finds the love of her life.

Nothing really is resolved or changes for Dawn. When she goes looking for her sister in New York and doesn’t come home at night, no one even notices she was gone. Her parents still treat her like dirt and mostly ignore her, she still doesn’t have any friends or gained popularity of any kind and she still looks in the mirror everyday wondering why everyone hates her so much.

A lot of people complain about the ending, stating that it has no resolution and that her circumstances donyt change. But that is the whole point.  As Thoreau once said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation“. Their plights go unnoticed and then they die. Most people who are treated like Dawn don’t become either a) happy, pretty, successful, fit, loved, tanned people or b) turn to a life of crime becoming the Columbine shooters. On the contrary, they just fade away, suffer through it and realize that in the end they can’t change anything; like Dawn at the end of the movie.

That is because in real life, there isn’t a happy ending at the end of the 90 minutes and sometimes people just aren’t able to rise above their assigned rung on the social ladder. I guess that is why so many people find this movie difficult to watch or dismiss it altogether.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Totally Awesome 80s: Top Movies

I love the 80s. I love the music, movies, hair and fashions. It was just such a funky time. The 80’s were all about everything being new. Vinyl LP records were being replaced by CDs. VHS format video tapes won out over Beta format video tapes,  the home PC was on the rise, home video games were starting to replace board games and video killed the radio star. Microwaves, VCR’s, new cable channels, portable phones, walkmen….just to name a few of the exciting things back then really enriched the culture and interaction among people but also revolutionized a lot of things.

The 80’s witnessed the rise of punk rock, new wave music, nerds, stoners, preppies and the very beginning of MTV which at that point actually did play music videos 24/7 instead of running reality shows on knocked up high school white teenage trash. There also seemed to be more movies that were based on high school and pop-culture than ever.

Trickle down was a big word in the 80s justifying some of Reagan’s worst policy decisions that haunt us until this day, but the real vibe of the 80’s was the ambition that trickled-down, not the money. Everyone and their mom wanted to be rich or a hero – Superman, The Greatest American Hero, Rambo, Arnold movies, Ghostbusters –  to just name a few of the movies that were inspired by that generation. This ambition or desire to be more and the opportunity for a lot of people to be just that is evident all over the place in pop culture.

The movie The Secret of My Success comes to mind. A movie which is the epitome of the 80s mentality but in a more positive, go-getter, you-can-achieve-your-dreams-if-you-work-hard kind of way as opposed to the more cynical view seen in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.

My most favorite part of the 80s is the movies, especially those high school movies that always seemed to be about a group of normal kids or nerds or an unpopular bunch, fighting against the injustices of the high school clique system and the popular kids and the snobs who thought they were better. Teenage angst was a big part of the stories, especially exemplified in many John Hughes productions such as The Breakfast ClubSixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, but also Can’t Buy Me Love or Secret Admirer. There was a great sense of need for justice and these movies, which often times idolized the school years, were all over the place. Movies today seem too dark and too serious and as Roger Ebert said, “we live in an age of brutal manners, when people crudely say exactly what they mean, comedy is based on insult, tributes are roasts, and loud public obscenity passes without notice.” 

There is so much more to be said about the 80s and how it changed the American landscape but suffice it  to say that as a decade it was a very cool and exiting one, especially in terms of the pop culture it created and ideas that emerged. The end of the cold war at its tail end also eally made this decade a one of a kind. The 90s and 2000s were the information age and life, as we know it, changed drastically as a result, especially of the internet.

But here is one to good old times (and i feel sad to be calling the 80s good OLD times).

Here are some of my favorite 80s movies, and with that I don’t mean movies made in the 80s but movies that evoke that feeling of funk and punk and teenage angst and self assertion.

Back to the Future I and II (1985)

Blind  Date (1987)

The Breakfast Club (1985)

The ‘Burbs (1989)

Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)

Diner (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Ghostbusters (1984)


The Goonies (1985)

Heathers (1988)

Inner Space (1987)

Just One of the Guys (1985)

Licence to Drive (1988)

The Lost Boys (1987)

Lucas (1986)

Modern Girls (1986)

Overboard (1987)

Pretty in Pink (1986)

Roxanne (1987)

Scrooged (1988)

Secret Admirer (1985)

The Secret of my Success (1987)

Seems Like Old Times (1980)

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

Soul Man (1986)

St.  Elmo’s Fire (1985)

Summer School (1987)

The Sure Thing (1985)

Teen Wolf (1985)

Top Gun (1986)

Working Girl (1988)

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment