“Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture” is the Worst Film I Have Ever Seen. You Should Still Watch it.
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First off, I would just like to thank Tricoast Studios and Rock Salt Releasing from the onset for the chance to watch and review this movie. Any negative opinions I have about the film are no reflection upon them, as they just allowed me to watch the film for free. With that being said, man is this movie absolute trash.
For those unaware, which is probably most reading this, “Dollhouse” is a film which focuses on the fictional life of Junie Spoons, a child actor turned over-sexualized teen pop star and the ways that society silences her identity while profiting off it at the same time, especially when it comes to the music industry. The film presents the perspectives of others who were close to Junie during her rise to stardom, including her mom, former friend, a Junie Spoons “expert,” along with a few others. The film ends at the end of her career, where she goes completely insane from the stress of her life.
Initially, I went into the film with some pretty generous expectations. Surely this would be a good dissection of the ways in which women are culturally ignored about issues pertaining to women, right? Well, it was, at least for the first half.
The first half of the movie shows Junie’s come up as a Hollywood starlit. Even from the age of three Junie is depicted as having strings attached to her, showing how she is both literally controlled by her mom, but also figuratively held captive by both her mom and society as a whole. Junie’s first relationship is also arranged for her by a PR team, and when her first boyfriend Zachary Wilderness rapes her and releases the footage online, he is held to zero account for his action, meanwhile Junie is treated as a slut for engaging in sexual activity before marriage.
Not only is Junie treated like an object to be controlled, she also has virtually no control over what she says publicly. In all of her interviews as a kid, she is given a script by her PR team where she mostly appeals to god as a way of getting out of public scandal. A lot of this is meant to closely mirror the real life experiences of Brittany Spears and Lindsey Lohan, and it arguably does so to pretty good effect.
However, the film takes a pretty weird leap in logic when it addresses the subject of transgender people. During the film’s latter half, a man named Larry, who claims to be Junie Spoons biggest fan, gets surgery in order to look like her, and then essentially takes over her identity, with people referring to her as “trans Junie Spoons.” There is even a line that implies that people let trans Junie Spoons do what she wants so they don’t get taken to court.
It is at this point where the film loses a lot of credibility in its messaging. While the female experience in America has certainly been filled with hardship, discrimination, and outright erasure, the idea that a group of people who have had zero political and cultural power within the U.S. until very, very recently are somehow equally to blame for those same hardships is absolutely ridiculous on its surface. Furthermore, the idea that trans women are just men who want to be women, and thus can never really understand what it means to be a women is equally ridiculous, for the simple reason that most trans women are living that experience every day, are oftentimes more discriminated against because of it.
Writer Connor Lockie probably explained it best in his review of the film where he said “Junie’s story aims to highlight the way young women are stripped of their personhood in order to please the ruling forces of the patriarchy, but ironically commits an eradication of trans subjectivity from American independent cinema.”
Still, even if the film’s grotesque ideas about transgender people were not present, their would not be much worth salvaging. For starters, director Nicole Brending’s admittedly forward thinking ideas about women in Hollywood have already been illustrated to much greater affect in other places, without the extra layers of bigotry.
The puppets used for the film’s characters are also incredibly off-putting. Most of the characters are incredibly unattractive to look at, and the ones that are just look like boring barbie-doll figures.
Arguably the most egregious decision made is to hide all of these ideas behind the shield of “comedy.” It has become a tactic of many who want to engage in political dialogue but not be criticized for bad ideas to just simply call those bad ideas a joke. Now, it would be one thing if the film was actually funny, because at least then there would be some reasoning behind that decision. Unfortunately, it is just not. Most of the jokes fall incredibly flat, and this coming from someone who finds things way funnier at one in the morning and tired, which is exactly when I watched the film.
Still, despite all of the bad things about the film, I would still encourage those who care about issues like these to watch the film for one simple reason: understanding.
What makes bigoted arguments like the ones made in “Dollhouse” concerning are not that they are good, quite the opposite actually. It is that most people do not have the understanding to explain why the arguments are bad, and I think watching the film might actually give perspective on where TERFs are coming from when they make their arguments against transgender people. I would also recommend listening to this podcast Nicole Brending did with Rogin Kim, where she explains a lot of her creative decisions behind the movie, as well as addresses the initial backlash she got when the film released.
Overall, “Dollhouse” was a terrible movie experience. Its good ideas are totally soured by its bad ones, and its attempts to be funny. However, if you are interested in women’s issues and want to get a broader understanding of the different ideological stances within that space, this is a decent place to start, so check it out.
Have you all seen “Dollhouse?” Have a different opinion? Feel free to share it in the comments. If you all have not seen it and do want to watch it, it will be available on the following platforms on August 11th:
- Vimeo on Demand
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