Review: Dollhouse

Written, directed and voiced by Nicole Brending, with the full title ‘Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture’, charts the rise and fall of fictional child pop star Junie Spoons as her life story (and the ensuing disasters) unfold, as told by those who knew her. Set in the bubble gum pop world of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, told à la VH1’s ‘Behind The Music’, Junie’s story tops itself one scandal after another as she rockets to international stardom and then faces the aftermath of a life under scrutiny. Also starring the voices of: Sydney Bonar, Aneikit Bonnel, Erik Hoover and Peter Ooley.

Using puppets to play out satire is a combination that surprisingly works every time, it plays with the generally ridiculous nature of the subject matter in a way that’s observant yet silly and is genuinely enjoyable to watch. The use of it here through very home-made looking puppets that could fit right into a slightly disturbing stop motion film, gives it a strange but effective charm, almost feeling reminiscent of Spitting Image, it throws a little bit of discomfort at you but then plays up that offbeat edge. The style is very indie, it’s creative and unusual, ultimately a very inventive and resourceful way to tell this satiric story. Especially in the scenes with fake music videos, the touches that have been added, costumes (or lack there of) and a lot of glitter, feel like a perfect parody of what we saw in the early 2000’s. The puppetry is supported by some cleverly cliched voices which fit so well into the visual, they’re exactly what you’d expect in tone and cadence so it makes the format they’ve chosen work all the more.

However, the key aspect here is not the puppets but the writing, if you’re going to base your premise on some very real events you have to hit the comedic notes in the right way to balance the humour and not come across as overly offensive. For the most part the film does that well, you can very clearly see the influences of pop culture and the events that it’s portraying, it hits a lot of familiar points and does so in a very funny, sarcastic and biting way with just the right amount of creepiness. It really hits hard upon how ridiculously close-minded and prejudicial the media have treated popstars especially in the late 90’s and early 00’s, and how they’ve all been viewed through the lens of those out to use them for their own gain, never represented through their own opinions or true experiences. Social media has given such stars the opportunity to set the record straight, or dig themselves deeper, but it’s extremely debatable whether this has simply now caused that ridiculous judgement to deepen and toxify even further. Regardless, the film makes a perceptive satire of the lives of those such as Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, it hits the humour well but also holds a fantastic point about their individual perspectives being completely removed and purely judged by the opinions of others.

Where the film stumbles is in its latter half, its original story takes a real backseat for the rest of the film, and it loses its original strong energy in favour of simple or gross style humour which definitely isn’t as effective. It strays into a new vein of the story which touches upon transgender issues and it doesn’t feel as though it treats them with enough sensitivity, instead it feels almost offensive, had they presented it as drag rather than trans it might have worked. The issue mostly being that instead of trying to present one outlandish case, it pushes the parody too far and focuses on that element of the story too much that it spreads out into trans as a whole which feels inappropriate and in bad taste. It also takes on another element to the story which feels removed from the original concept, feeding into that overly simple humour that does a disservice to the rest of the well observed satire that it had established. Instead of these aspects adding to the ongoing plot, they seem like tangents, taking away from the real focus and only returning to it at the very last minute which is unsatisfying.

Dollhouse began with a brilliant concept and it really embraced it early on and hit those fantastic satiric notes, being sharp but parodical at the same time which is a difficult line to walk. However, as it entered its second half, it wandered down a road full of tangents and silly humour which didn’t live up to its established potential and is disappointing to see. Ultimately the film is a story of two halves, one is a biting look at the treatment of famous female figures and how the media erases their perspectives and the other is overly ridiculous and involves a surprising amount of miniature fake penises. It starts out with a strong style and hits the right notes but it can’t quite manage to keep it going throughout.

Verdict: ✯✯½

Available on VOD now, check out the trailer below

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