Welcome to the Dollhouse

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This article is about the 1995 film. For the Danity Kane album, see Welcome to the Dollhouse (album).
Welcome to the Dollhouse
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Todd Solondz
Produced by Todd Solondz
Written by Todd Solondz
Starring Heather Matarazzo
Brendan Sexton III
Eric Mabius
Matthew Faber
Music by Jill Wisoff
Cinematography Randy Drummond
Edited by Alan Oxman
Suburban Pictures
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • September 10, 1995 (1995-09-10) (TIFF)
  • May 24, 1996 (1996-05-24)
Running time
87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $800,000
Box office $4,569,019

Welcome to the Dollhouse is a 1995 American independent coming of age comedy film. An independent film, it launched the careers of Todd Solondz and Heather Matarazzo.[1]


Eleven-and-a-half year old Dawn Wiener is a shy, unattractive, unpopular 7th grader living in a middle-class suburban community in New Jersey. Her older 17-year-old brother Mark is a nerdy, snooty high school student who plays clarinet in a garage band and shuns girls in order to prepare for college. Dawn's younger eight-year-old sister Missy is a spoiled, manipulative little girl who pesters and harasses Dawn and dances happily all around the house in a tutu. Their mother is a shrewish, overbearing woman who dotes on Missy and always sides with her in disputes with Dawn. Their father is a meek, immature, selfish man who always sides with Dawn's mother in her arguments with Dawn. Dawn's only friend is an effeminate fifth-grade boy named Ralphy, with whom she shares a dilapidated clubhouse in her backyard.

Dawn's life in junior high school is miserable. Her classmates ridicule her and cover her locker with graffiti. After her teacher unfairly keeps her after school, she is threatened with rape by a bully named Brandon McCarthy, who has almost as much trouble socializing as she does. Her attempts to take out her frustrations only get her into trouble. At home her mother punishes her for calling Missy a lesbian and refusing to be nice to her. At school, Dawn gets suspended for three days after she accidentally hits a teacher in the eye with a spitball while trying to hit some boys blowing spitballs at her. Brandon's first attempt to rape Dawn after school fails, but he orders her to meet him again or he will come to her house. After she complies, he takes her to an abandoned field. He starts an earnest conversation with her and does not rape her, he only kisses her.

Meanwhile, Mark's band is joined by Steve Rodgers, a charismatic and handsome aspiring 19-year-old rock musician who agrees to play in the band in exchange for Mark's help in computer science class. Dawn falls for him and decides to pursue him romantically after he spends some time with her, even though one of Steve's former girlfriends tells Dawn that she has no chance of being with him.

Over the next several months, Dawn and Brandon form an innocent romance. Later in the film, Brandon is arrested and expelled from school for suspected drug dealing. Dawn comes over to his house to visit him and learns that his home life is even worse than hers; Brandon has an abusive and alcoholic, widowed father and a mentally challenged older brother who requires constant supervision. After kissing Dawn and saying that he loves her, Brandon then runs away to avoid being sent to military school.

After angrily rejecting Ralphy, Dawn is left with no friends. When she refuses to tear down her clubhouse to make room for her parents' 20th wedding anniversary party, her mother has Mark and Missy destroy it and gives them her share of a cake. At the party, Dawn intends to proposition Steve, but gets cold feet and is contemptuously rebutted. Steve plays with Missy, who pushes Dawn into a kiddie pool. That evening, the family watches a videotape of the party, laughing when Dawn falls into the water. Dawn is completely humiliated but her immature parents continue to be oblivious to her unhappiness. Later that night, Dawn angrily smashes the tape to pieces and briefly brandishes her hammer over Missy as she sleeps. Dawn goes to bed without harming Missy.

Dawn's ultimate personal disaster happens a few weeks later when her father's car breaks down and her mother has to pick him up from his workplace. Dawn is to tell Missy to find a ride home from ballet class while their mother is away. However, Missy argues with Dawn, who retaliates by not telling her, with the result being that Missy is kidnapped while she is walking home alone. When Missy's tutu is found in Times Square, Dawn goes to New York City hoping to find her. After a full day and night of searching for Missy, Dawn phones home to check up on what is going on and Mark tells her that Missy has been found by the police after she was abducted by a pedophile neighbor who lives on their street. Dawn returns home dejected and sees that her mother was too preoccupied with Missy's traumatic kidnapping ordeal to even notice Dawn's absence. After this, Dawn's classmates make fun of her as she gives a thank you speech in the assembly hall. It is only after the principal tells the unruly students to be quiet, Dawn musters the emotional strength to finish her speech and makes a quick exit.

As the film comes to an end, summer arrives and Dawn is relieved that her painful ordeal at school is over... at least for the next three months. However, nothing changes in Dawn's life; she still remains unattractive and a social outcast, her parents still ignore her, and Missy still pesters and harasses her. Mark tells Dawn that she cannot expect school life to get any better until she starts high school. Rather than counting down the long summer days to return to school for 8th grade and endure another hellish year of bullying and abuse, Dawn signs herself up for a two-month school trip to Walt Disney World summer camp in Florida. Dawn sees herself off, without saying goodbye to her parents who do not notice (nor seem to care) that Dawn is going away for the summer. In the final scene, Dawn sits among other girls from her school on the school bus traveling to Florida as she obediently joins them in singing the school anthem. Unnoticed, her voice slowly trails off as she sits looking out a bus window to ponder her uncertain future.


  • Heather Matarazzo as Dawn Wiener
  • Matthew Faber as Mark Wiener
  • Daria Kalinina as Missy Wiener
  • Angela Pietropinto as Mrs. Wiener
  • Bill Buell as Mr Wiener
  • Brendan Sexton III as Brandon McCarthy
  • Eric Mabius as Steve
  • Dimitri DeFresco (Iervolino) as Ralphy
  • Victoria Davis as Lolita
  • Christina Brucato as Cookie
  • Christina Vidal as Cynthia
  • Amouris Rainey as Darla
  • Siri Howard as Chrissy
  • Telly Pontidis as Jed
  • Herbie Duarte as Lance
  • Jared Solano as Neko
  • Scott Coogan as Troy
  • Josiah Trager as Kenny
  • Ken Leung as Barry


The film was a surprise success, considering it was a relatively low budget, independently-produced film. It garnered critical praise for its nail-biting view of a pre-teen outcast, and won the Grand Jury Prize for best dramatic feature at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival. Critic Roger Ebert was vocal about his love for the film, giving it four stars out of four and placing it at number five on his "Best of 1996" list.[2]

The film currently holds an 90% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which states, "Twelve-year-old Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) is perhaps the most put-upon adolescent in film history in Todd Solondz's bitterly hilarious black comedy Welcome to the Dollhouse."[3]


External links[edit]

Preceded by
The Brothers McMullen
Sundance Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic
Succeeded by