Features and Columns · Movies

The Hilariously Painful Pre-Teen Mirror of ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’

“Who told you to fight back?”
Welcome To The Dollhouse Dawn Table
Sony Pictures Classics
By  · Published on June 21st, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the unique pre-adolescent despair of Welcome to the Dollhouse.

Because there are an infinite amount of ways to grow up, there are an infinite amount of ways to approach a coming-of-age film. Horror is a visceral conduit of the bloodier, body-horror realities of puberty, a gruesome match made in hell expertly realized by the likes of Ginger Snaps, Raw, and Carrie. Historical dramas like American Graffiti, The Outsiders, and Stand By Me, remind us that growing up is a tough business no matter the time period. And fantastical offerings from Spirited Away to Star Wars: A New Hope allow teenage growing pains the imaginative space to fail and flourish.

But if we zoom out even further, I think there are fundamentally two kinds of coming-of-age films. There are coming of age flicks made for young folks in the process of growing up, intended to commiserate with and advise those in the throes of adolescence. And then there are the films made for adults who survived the ordeal and lived to cringe, wince, and laugh at all their pre-teen angst. Todd Solondz‘s gangly, bitingly desperate 1995 coming-of-age-sterpiece Welcome to the Dollhouse is firmly in the latter category. The film concerns Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) a middle-schooler struggling to survive her suburban life, inattentive parents, and bullying peers. As the video essay below relays, the film’s subversive gait and a pitch-black sense of humor paint pre-adolescence as a pitifully bleak affair that, in retrospect, is kind of funny. Between the cataclysmic need to be liked to the uncomfortable newfound sense of self-awareness, Dawn is us and we are Dawn. Or were, thankfully.

Watch “Welcome to the Dollhouse & Middle Grade Despair“:

Who made this video?

This video essay on Welcome to the Dollhouse is by Yhara Zayd. They provide insightful deep dives on young adult content from Skins to My Best Friend’s Wedding. You can check out more of their content and subscribe to their channel on YouTube here. If you like their stuff and you want to support them, you can check out their Patreon here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.