Dawn doesn't fit in. Not anywhere. Bullied in school, ignored at home. But she has a place of refuge, a tumbledown clubroom in the far corner of the garden. Welcome to Dawn's dollhouse. The 11-year-old Dawn is safe here from the lesbian accusations of her antagonists, the rape threats and the teasing, and from her loathsomely self-conceited, doll-like little sister. Dawn's club has two members; herself and a younger neighbouring boy. No one else would even consider joining. But Dawn's mother decides that the clubroom spoils the garden, and pulls the shack down. Unfortunately it isn't as easy to lick her daughter into shape. Dawn's greatest wish is to be popular. (''Case rested!'', as her mother would have dejectedly sighed. Because if hopeless cases exist, then Dawn is one.) She is in love with the most popular guy in school, and cannot understand why he hardly notices her. The only two people who really care about her she rejects because of her inevitable self-centeredness as a result of the bullying. Dawn is ugly, sometimes cowardly, on the whole pretty hopeless. It is because of this that she has my unreserved sympathy. She is going to persevere, it is obvious, and she has small tricks to aid survival- such as sawing the head off her sister's Barbie-doll. Winner at this year's Sundance, Welcome to the Dollhouse is a comedy, terribly dark but when all is said and done a comedy. Filled with a sort of ''deja vu humour'' which is so effective - and often quite unbearable. Because you do not want to recognize yourself, you would rather forget and certain sequences leave you squirming in your seat from embarrassment. It is merciless. Todd Solondz has made a brave film. Open and vulnerable, like only really honest films can be, and because of this you are defenseless. Reality is as raw as it is presented here, and people are as nasty. Especially during puberty. Solondz is also brave because he refuses to make Welcome to the Dollhouse a Cinderella fairy-tale which it could easily have become. Accustomed as we are to the endless American film variations upon the ugly duckling tale, you alternately fear and then hope that Dawn will cast aside her wimpish spectacles and her completely hopeless frilly blouses and ... Well, you know, she gets the prince and sweet revenge. Not so. Those who say that beauty is of little importance ought to see this film. When Dawn asks her worst tormentor at school why she hates her she replies: ''Because you're ugly.'' Dawn's world is as simple and cruel as that. CH P

Welcome to the Dollhouse
Todd Solondz
87 min
Heather Matarazzo, Daria Kalinina, Matthew Faber
Todd Solondz
Todd Solondz
Jill Wisoff

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