Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity From American Pop Culture is a difficult film to discuss. At its core, it’s a satire; a homemade mockumentary using puppets not too dissimilar to cult classics like Team America released this century. Directed by Nicole Brending and aiming to provide a “savage takedown of the Britney/Witney celebrity-industrial complex”, the film follows the career of Junie Spoons, a former child star turned washed up pop princess. Through the lens of interviews of various puppet characters, the audience follows Junie as she is exploited by those around her, and succumbs to the life of the celebrity seen too often in reality.
By definition, it’s a project which takes a big swing at society, skewering the Hollywood machine and the culture of celebrity. However, discussing this movie forces a reviewer like myself into conflict. Does one ignore the opinions of this film in order to make objective judgement, or does one interpret the very argument of the film as as important, if not more so, than other elements such as visuals or structure?
I would wager that indeed, since this film operates through a politically oriented lens and relies on a viewer’s ability to connect certain gags with real life debates and examples, the very argument that this film posits is fair game. Those who claim reviews are purely objective are mostly incorrect. Personal enjoyment is wholly subjective, and letting one’s enjoyment of a film govern their review is standard practice. In the case of Dollhouse, the extent to which one buys into the messaging will definitely inform their enjoyment, and thus, their assessment of the film as a whole.
And boy, what messaging it is. Right off the bat, this is a movie packed with potential offence. If you’re the type of person who calls your twitter timeline home and has JK Rowling on a cancelled list, stay away from this film. That said, even those who don’t easily take offence may find it a little too extreme for their taste. Granted, for the first act, the film offers funny, if a little derivative, observations about the female experience in Hollywood. It’s clearly a take on Britney Spears more than anyone else (all the way down to a recreation of the viral “Leave Britney Alone” craze) and offers very little audiences haven’t seen in various skits in the last decade, but it’s a serviceable effort from such a novice director.
But then the film veers in a baffling direction rather suddenly. Thus what was enjoyable became exceptionally messy and, dare I say, problematic. Now, this is where the review becomes a little conflicted. Without spoiling, plot developments in the second half expose rather unexpected political positions from the director, ones that will surely rub people up the wrong way. It’s all a little grotesque, insensitive, and betrays the insights made in the first act. Brending comes across bitter, making what was satire, into something uncomfortable.
Inevitably, some will argue that in comedy, anything goes. But, not if the result of this artistic license is discomfort and lack of enjoyment. The film runs for only 75 minutes, but feels much longer. I would wager that it would have worked far more effectively as a short-film, rather than something stretched to nearly feature length.
I can’t help but admire the brazenness of Brending, but my own personal qualms with the film’s moral character, and the way in which she muddles the second half completely, means I cannot wholly recommend it.