"I spent many weekends combing the malls
of New Jersey, handing out audition flyers to 11 year old girls who showed signs of self loathing
and misery, and 13 year old boys who looked mean
and like they could beat me up
'Extremely provocative... even taboo.' That phrase sums up Solondz's style plenty.
Dark, domestic, neurotic, depressive.
How else to describe director Todd Solondz?
Although it would be somewhat of an exaggeration to say he is a 36 year old male version of his 13 year old little girl protagonist Dawn Wiener, or "Wienerdog", from his film Welcome to The Dollhouse, Solondz is, ahem, less than glamorous. In fact, his face is pretty much that of the classic dork.
Appearances aside though, when Solondz begins to talk, we can see he is resplendently eloquent, wise, warmhearted, self critical, of course: hilarious, and even a bit wistful. In actual fact, we are told he is an unqualified delight.
"As I see it", he says, "It is a comedy, a sad comedy, sometimes a harsh, even brutal comedy. But it is a comedy nonetheless.... But I think this brutality, this cruelty -- there's something about this particular time of life, this farewell to childhood, the onset of adolescence, that brings into relief this quality. And contending with these forces of cruelty I think is part of the process of growing up.... But if it were just cruelty, it wouldn't interest me so much as the fact that there's a struggle to transcend it."
The thing which struck me about this film is that some of the most horrendous moments are also the quietest and simplest moments.
Solondz says that there are an infinite number of ways in which to be brutal, just as there are infinite ways in which to be tender. Todd is a master of comedic tragedy. He knows how to preserve that thin equilibrium between heartbreak and humor.
Solondz managed to capture the awkwardness of two 13 year olds kissing. Dawn's and the abusive boyfriend's hands on shoulders and hips rather than around necks and waists. the terrifying, static instant as they consider where to place their noses.
Solondz has since become the king of suburban perversions. "Dollhouse" was just a limbering up for the unsettling "Happiness" (1998).