Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity From American Popular Culture

The dictionary definition of satire is “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Insofar as that definition stands, Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity From American Popular Culture is one of the most raucous, cutting examples of the term I have seen in quite some time. Also, it’s shot with dolls! When the film first started, I was immediately reminded of the “secret” cult film Superstar by Todd Haynes, which is also shot with dolls and touches on the life story of Karen Carpenter, who died from complications of anorexia.

While Superstar! is stark in its presentation, Dollhouse is much more wacky with its lampooning of popular culture. The film is presented almost exactly like an episode of (one of my favorite shows as a teenager) Vh1’s Behind The Music, specifically, the episode is about former child pop star Junie Spoons. Her mother, “friends,” and various “experts” are interviewed throughout while various scenes from her past play out on camera.

“…puts a very unforgiving funhouse mirror on our society and its commodification of women’s bodies.”

Junie Spoons is a mix of Britney Spears (on a kids show and dates one of her former co-stars, comes out with an uber-sexualized hit single while she’s still a teenager), Lindsay Lohan (toxic opportunistic mother, drug problem, brief lesbian relationship), Patty Hearst (gets kidnapped and robs a bank with the “Siamese Revolution Militia”), and even a dash of OJ Simpson thrown in (except this time it’s a pink Bronco). We see Spoons’ multiple rises and falls, aside from the ones mentioned, including a sex tape scandal, a crazy fan who assumes her identity, and more.

Dollhouse puts a very unforgiving funhouse mirror on our society and its commodification of women’s bodies. It pulls no punches in it’s lampooning of American culture. There’s even an appearance by Donald Trump and Melania dolls where Donald says, “Nobody cares what women think, they’re just pussies on legs. I mean look at my wife. She has nothing to say.” Thiswhich made me laugh but also made me once again remember what a monster is in the White House (not as if I’m not reminded of that fact about eleven times a day by the myriad of stupid things he does).

“…one of the most raucous, cutting examples of [satire] I have seen in quite some time.”

The thing that’s great about Dollhouse, but also somewhat terrifying about this film is that almost 75% of the material is based upon things that actually happened in the pop culture universe over the past 20 years or so. Seeing it brought to life through dolls and puppets is refreshing and reminds me of what Trey Parker and Matt Stone did with Team America except from a woman’s perspective.

Nicole Brending wrote, directed, shot, and did a vast majority of the voices in Dollhouse. She also constructed all the dolls and setpieces, which I’m sure were nowhere near as effortless to create as it looks on the camera. Her feature debut but by no means her first rodeo. I hope that this film gets a big audience on the festival circuit this year. A lot of people learn through satire, and it’s always nice to have a good laugh at the expense of our ridiculous, horrible society. I hope enough people can see through some of the absurdity of Dollhouse (which there is gracious plenty) to embrace the message. Which is, the fetishization of teenage girls and the selling of women’s bodies in the media needs to stop.

Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity From American Popular Culture (2019) Written and Directed by Nicole Brending. Starring Nicole Brending, Sydney Bonar, Aneikit Bonnel, Erik Hoover, Peter Ooley. Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity From American Popular Culture screened at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival.

7 out of 10 stars

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