Welcome To The Dollhouse: Looking Back At The Films Of Todd Solondz

by Accidental Bear

“Dawn, Are you a lesbian?”

A screening of Welcome to the Dollhouse at the Book Club last week prompted Yasmeen Khan at thequietus.com to reflect on Todd Solondz‘s unique and compelling body of work.

“Fuck family. Fuck motherhood. Fuck the kids. I just don’t care any more,” says Alison Janney’s Trish, holding a post-coital cigarette two-thirds of the way through Todd Solondz’s 2009 film Life During Wartime. As soon as she has her clothes back on, though, she retracts the statement. “Love really can change a person,” she tells her new boyfriend. It’s a typical Solondz moment. You have to keep up.

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), Happiness (1998), Storytelling (2001), Palindromes (2004) and 2009’s Life During Wartime were all written and directed by Solondz, and they form a remarkably coherent body of work. It’s natural to focus on their common subject matter, especially as the films explicitly invite you to make connections between them by sharing characters and a complex continuity, but you can be forgiven for remembering the controversies first. The casts of paedophiles, rapists and abusers who are also parents, teachers and carers; the misery, rage, abortions and suicides; the uncomfortable depictions of underage sex. And the sharp, unhappy black humour – it’s brilliant, but with such grim themes, it was never going to sit well with most audiences.

But it’s unfair to look at the grotesqueness without setting it in the wider contexts of Solondz’s indubitable artistry and his fundamentally compassionate concern with finding some humanity even in the most monstrous characters. He faces up to their crimes, he doesn’t excuse them or make them likeable people, but he refuses to treat them as less than human. Did he deliberately court controversy by making Happiness feature a paedophile? Maybe. Maybe with good reason. He told the AV Club: “The great irony is that I have no real interest in pedophilia, so to speak. But as a metaphor, that is most demonized, ostracized, feared and loathed… I mean, I don’t know how to top that. I think most Americans would rather have Osama bin Laden at their table than a paedophile.” Read More

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