(warning: reviews may contain mild spoilers)
By sheer coincidence, a couple of recent films I’ve watched can be lazily grouped together as mid-1990s independent American films by indy-type directors at the early stages of their careers (in the latter’s case, her debut). So, what the heck, why not review them together.
(Welcome to the Dollhouse, 1995, directed by Todd Solondz) – A twelve year-old girl is made an outcast because of her lack of social skills and “good looks” as she’s mercilessly persecuted by her classmates, teachers, siblings and even her parents. Is there any way out for her?
A big critical hit when released and it’s gained a big reputation over the years… something which I quite didn’t think it lived up to. It has plenty of good qualities; it’s nicely pointed and observant at times, has some surprising resolutions to key plot points (like the relationship between the central character and one of her bullies) and has the courage to avoid placating the audience in satisfying resolutions and happy endings. And I like how it illustrates the cruelty Dawn suffers doesn’t just end with her; it has an impact and is passed on to others.
But it also makes some misjudgements; it’s told from the central character’s point ov view and not objectively. That’s not necessarily a problem in itself except that the film utilizes this so that many characters are one-note caricatures (especially her parents) which makes them and the film often predictable and unrevealing. Also a plot point about a kidnapping could’ve been done without.
Overall, it probably suffered from its reputation as much anything; if I’d never heard of it before I watched it I probably would’ve been pretty satisfied. As it was, because of the high reputation it had I was vaguely disappointed by it – there are other films covering similar subject matter (like Alexander Payne’s ‘Election’) which are perceptive and superior imo.
(I Shot Andy Warhol, 1996, directed by Mary Harron) – Biopic of Valerie Solanas, a lowlife radical feminist who despite herself, became involved with Andy Warhol’s milleu. After some initial success she is cast out and does what the title says.
Considering the central character is so obnoxious, that the film remains interesting throughout is a showcase to how well made it is, helped significantly by an excellent Lili Taylor in the central role. This in part I suspect is because the film doesn’t make any comprises about her persona; she isn’t made more ‘likable’ then she actually is and as a result, it gives the film a greater authenticity. The authenticity also carries over to the recreation of Warhol’s ‘Factory’ which is convincingly conveyed; an impressive achievement on a small budget.
It’s only real flaw is that it gives Solanas more significance then she deserved. Her ‘feminist manifesto’. If what the film presents is an accurate guide (and the filmmakers are clearly sympathetic to her), then it’s little more then a one-note rant, and not a very interesting rant at that. Indeed the acronym of her manifesto (SCUM – Society for Cutting Up Men) almost sounds like you’d come across in a comic parody of feminism. If she hadn’t shot Warhol, it’s a pretty safe bet that she wouldn’t even be remembered at all.