Radiance Films: I've Got it All Set Up for You: Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) - Reviewed


Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Many coming-of-age films have been made, but Todd Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) is one of the genre's most provocative, impactful, and poignant entries. Simultaneously hilarious and depressing, it perfectly captures adolescence in a tragic time snapshot in the mid-nineties. The main character, a nerdy young girl with the unfortunate name of Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo), is highly unpopular at her school and is ostracized by both the teachers and the students. She sets up the so-called Special People's Club which consists of herself and her younger friend Ralphie (Dimitri DeFresco), and outside of this, she has no other friends.

I'm sure anyone who grew up on the outskirts of the social elite in school can fully relate to her predicament. Dawn's character differs from similar tropes because she is not depicted as a martyr. She is sometimes selfish and vindictive, especially towards her pretty younger sister. While some of that may be attributed to her treatment by her peers, she has some unsavory personality traits. Solondz isn't interested in painting his characters as pariahs--they are all complex people trying to live in chaotic situations.

There is a point to be made about how bullying can lead to the victims further perpetrating that trauma onto others and it is a typical trauma response. Dawn has an unrequited crush on her older brother's bandmate Steve (Eric Mabius) but also entertains the mixed feelings she gets from Brandon (Brendan Sexton III), a delinquent student who oscillates between giving her attention and abusing her. Dawn's crippling insecurities and loneliness lead her to crave attention, even if it is negative. Her family mostly ignores her to favor her sister, and her mother is a narcissist who resents Dawn for reminding her of her failings.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

The humor in this film is pitch black, and you will feel bad about laughing at certain scenes. Occasionally, it's hard to tell when something is being played for laughs, but seeing where the audience members' boundaries lie is interesting. Brendan Sexton III had his breakout role Brandon, and his entire character arc is one of the most insane and strange things about the film. Brandon's terrible home life likely contributes to his behavior, but Dawn is the other side of the same coin. She has a somewhat stable environment but is being sucked into the ennui of suburbia, a life that rewards banality over creativity and quirkiness.

Matthew Faber is also excellent as Dawn's geeky and nihilistic brother Mark--I think he is a stand-in for Todd Solondz himself. The ending of the film is simultaneously haunting and hopeful as Dawn is still on the fringes of her peer group, but she is surviving and will hopefully move past all of this pain when she matures into an adult. Ironically, the existence of this film toys with the idea that even if one "gets over" being treated this way in their youth, it will always leave an impression, whether one is conscious of it or not.

--Michelle Kisner

Photo courtesy of Radiance Films

Limited Edition Special Features:

High Definition digital transfer of the film with uncompressed original stereo audio, approved by director Todd Solondz

Uncompressed stereo PCM audio

Interviews with Solondz and star Heather Matarazzo (2022)

Todd Solondz's Suburban Nightmare: A visual essay by critic and author Hannah Strong on the film and its place within Solondz's work

Audio commentary by BJ and Harmony Colangelo of the This Ends at Prom podcast


Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters

Limited edition booklet featuring new writing on the film by A. S. Hamrah and Molly Lambert, archival writing by Solondz and Julian Murphet and extracts from contemporary writing on the film 

Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings