Puberty blues

Writer-director Todd Solondz doesn't play games in Welcome to the Dollhouse

The critical reaction to Dollhouse has been almost universally ecstatic. The notable holdout is Terrence Rafferty at The New Yorker, who reacted with impassioned disapproval to the film's displays of meanspiritedness. He bluntly termed it "a hateful picture," which is, strictly speaking, correct: Welcome to the Dollhouse churns with the corrosive brand of hatred that only a junior-high-schooler can muster. Even the persecuted Dawn Wiener sometimes retaliates with the same casual vindictiveness she often endures, as when she taunts her equally unpopular best friend: "Faggot."

"I don't know if Terrence meant it was a movie full of hate, or a movie that deserved to be hated," Solondz says. "I got the definite impression that he hated it, though."

That Todd Solondz can strip childhood of some of its comfortable, adult-inspired mythology and still leave an awkward young female character with the dignity of her very real desires is what rescues Welcome to the Dollhouse from drowning in the social swamp it dramatizes.

During our interview, it becomes increasingly clear that Solondz cares very much about how his movie is received by ticket buyers. As we finish our conversation, he point-blank asks me how I think Welcome to the Dollhouse will perform in Dallas.

"Just tell them it's a comedy," he instructs me. "There are some sad parts in it, but above all, people should know it's OK to laugh."

Welcome To the Dollhouse. Sony Pictures Classics. Heather Matarazzo, Brendan Sexton Jr., Eric Mabius. Written and directed by Todd Solondz. Opens June 21.

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