by Anthony King
Labor Day has passed, which means all the kids are back in school. Just how I saluted teachers last month with this double, I want to salute another group this time around: the underdogs, the outcasts, the weirdos that don't seem to fit in at school or at their own homes. Chances are, if you read this site regularly, you were one of those kids. And, chances are, you grew up and still feel the same way. I only write this because I'm one of those people. The good news is that as we grow out of adolescence we (usually) find a friend or two that are interested in the same things, and that have experienced those feelings of being an outcast. Yay us!
To celebrate the outcasts, I've selected two movies that feature two amazing lead female performances. I knew I wanted to celebrate back-to-school with Excision, but I didn't know what to pair with it. My wife, having not seen the movie but knowing the basic premise, suggested Welcome to the Dollhouse, a movie I hadn't seen. So I watched Ricky Bates Jr.'s phenomenal debut film and then popped in Dollhouse, and within in 15 minutes, I knew this was the perfect pairing. Thanks, wife!
Sticking to more advice from my wife, it's nice to follow up a film that goes haywire with something a little more tame. While Todd Solondz's film, announcing that he is indeed a brilliant and authentic voice, is “tamer” than Excision, Welcome to the Dollhouse is no less weird (or great). Dollhouse tells the story about Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo), a lonely seventh-grader who also has the misfortune of being the middle child in her family. (Before you jump down my throat, let's face it, being the middle child out of three is usually a tough spot to be in for a kid.) Dawn is dumped on by her brother, ignored by her parents because they spend their time fawning over Dawn's younger sister, and shunned by everyone at school besides her friend Ralphy. Dollhouse is more of a slice-of-life film than anything else, and you see authentic characters that, if you dare recall your junior high days, are absolutely real people.
Pauline and Dawn are atypical, no question. And we all know how hard life as a teenager was, is, and will always be. Atypical + Middle/High School = Oil + Water. I worked for several years as a youth pastor to middle school kids. I lived the life as a middle-schooler, but I've also had the fortune to see that life up close and personal as an adult. The bad news is, nothing has changed. Honest to goodness, the only real difference I saw as a now-adult was that kids carried around phones. The technology has changed, but social statuses, pressure from home and school, and the prospects of love are all still there. My biggest goal when I worked with these kids was to show them that it was okay to be themselves. When they came to my after school program they knew there were no cool kids or nerdy kids. Types of shoes didn't matter because they were all kicked off as soon as they came through the doors (it smelled like the devil's asshole in that room). It didn't matter who had the newest phone or game or whatever because it all stayed in their backpacks. We stuffed our faces with junk food and then we ran around and played silly games where everybody was the same.