Film Reviews

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) / Fill ‘er Up with Super (1976) – Radiance Films – Blu-ray Review

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) was the breakout hit for director Todd Solondz. The picture revolves around the life of Dawn Weiner, aka “Weinerdog” (Heather Matarazzo), who is going through the seventh grade of high school, where she is constantly bullied and tortured by every one of her peers. She lives with a mother who constantly criticises her at the expense of her innocent little sister, a father who doesn’t seem to care one way or the other, and a brother obsessed with getting into college.

The film is a blacker-than-pitch satire that not only skewers the general high school experience but also highlights and celebrates the cringe. Cringe seems like such a new term due to its usage on social media, but Gen Xers in particular will watch certain moments in this film and hide behind their fingers, especially as they will instantly recall cringe things that they did in their own childhood. Like high school, it’s both hilarious and traumatic.

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Another refreshing change to these kinds of films is the central character of Dawn, who is also presented as a selfish and often cruel person, with Heather Matarazzo stunning in the role. It’s an amazing portrayal of that adolescent period, from the huge crush she has on the grunge-stereotype guitarist in her brother’s band to the way she ends up hanging around with one of her bullies because she has no other people to talk to. Brendon Sexton III is fantastic as that bully, who as always has his own issues, and there’s no judging here. The film has a great punky soundtrack by Jill Wisoff and just has an irrepressible attitude that both celebrates and indicts its subjects.

Directed by Alain Cavalier, 1976’s Fill ‘er Up with Super (Le Plein de Super) is a terrific French road movie about four men who take a trip from Lille to the Riviera in a posh Chevrolet station wagon. The car doesn’t belong to anyone; one of the men works as a car salesman and has been told he needs to deliver it as soon as possible or he’ll lose his job, much to the chagrin of his wife who was about to go on holiday with him. Bringing a friend along, they stop to pick up a hitchhiker who brings his own companion, and the four begin to make their way across the country, with personalities initially clashing rather fiercely.

Of course, those personalities soon become friends, and friends do strange things. Like washing naked in front of a stranger for gas money or spiking their food with a potent strain of marijuana, the latter of which climaxes in a beautiful mass laugh-in on the highway roadside. There’s a beautiful naturalism to the picture and the performances, and it feels like a precursor to the films of Richard Linklater and perhaps some of the Dogme 95 movies. We follow the troubles of each of the men in snatches, but it doesn’t spoon-feed us.

Each of the films are presented beautifully, with Fill ‘er Up with Super receiving a 2K restoration – it’s also worth noting that this is the first time the film has been released anywhere with English subtitles. Both look and sound fantastic, and the neon ’90s colours against the grey suburbs in Welcome to the Dollhouse look particularly great.

As expected from Radiance Films, each has a number of thoughtful extras. Welcome to the Dollhouse has an excellent audio commentary with podcasters BJ and Harmony Colangelo, new interviews with Solondz and Matarazzo, and a video essay by critic Hannah Strong. Fill ‘er Up with Super features an interview with actor Bernard Crombey, three short films by director Cavalier that all feature members of the cast, and a critical appreciation of the film by Cahiers du Cinema deputy editor Charlotte Garson. Both also have new booklet writing, although this was not made available for review.

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Once again, Radiance Films have kindly given us two fantastic films in superb presentations with excellent supplemental features. There’s not much else to say; you should grab these as soon as possible.

Welcome to the Dollhouse and Fill ‘er Up with Super are out now on Blu-ray from Radiance Films.

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