Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture (2020)

Based on the title, you might be expecting a scathing documentary about child actors and singers. And, in a way, you do. But just not in the way you expected. And that’s what makes this film so amazing.

What we get is a very welcomed reminder of Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, a 1987, 45-minute documentary-short by Todd Hayes chronicling the last years of ’70s pop singer Karen Carpenter’s life — via Barbie dolls-as-actors, along with artistic footage. (Hayes also made the 1998 Iggy Pop-David Bowie “what if” rocker, Velvet Goldmine.)

Reviewers and thread comments accurately drop the word “disturbing” and “entertaining” when describing this feature film debut by Nicole Brending that chronicles the rise and fall — with dolls and puppets (that affectionately reminds of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Supermarionation ’60s TV series) — of fictional child pop star Junie Spoons (i.e., Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan) in a ’90s VH-1 Behind the Music-styled format.

There’s no way a studio would greenlight a live-action comedy film with this much feminist power — without mucking it up into a groan-inducing rise-and-fall-and-back-again comedy ala Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star or Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. This one has it all: faux-Britney Spears bubble gum pop, loss of virginity, sex tapes, 24-hour over-and-done-marriages, drugs, booze, a Patty Hearst-styled kidnapping, bank robbery, bankruptcy, and murder.

But there’s more to Dollhouse than just being an animated comedy.

This isn’t a film of chuckles, groans, or guffaws. This is a comedy of intelligence told from the perspective of — not the invasive paparazzi and the media meat grinder to which we are accustomed — but by Junie Spoons herself (voice to perfection by Nicole Brending), as she reveals the hypocrisies of an opportunistic society that preys on the talents and contributions of women.

Powerful stuff that’s worth the streaming price.

Now, we have a rare treat with this review . . .

Between the theme weeks and the new releases coming into B&S About Movies, there’s that occasional review/scheduling snafu when one of the new releases is reviewed twice. So, in the spirit of a little ’80s Siskel & Ebert tomfoolery in the B&S About Movies’ offices out in the back wilds of Allegheny County, it seems Sam and I are fighting for aisle seat (and the drink blender). So, who’s the “Siskel” and who’s the “Ebert” in this collaborative review with Sam? Only the movies gods in the analog ethers shall know. . . . (I’m the “Siskel,” dadgummit it!)

Sam’s Take:

Dollhouse is the feature debut of director Nicole Brending. Subtitled The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture, she also created all of the dolls, props, and sets, wrote and performed much of the music, and did many of the voices herself.

Fictional child pop star Junie Spoons lost her virginity in a sex tape, had a 24-hour marriage, was kidnapped like Patty Hearst and was even involved in the murder of her mother. While this starts as a Britney-esque tale, it spirals out of control.

Quite honestly, I can see the talent behind this and the ability that it took to create it, but it just went on a bit too long for me. I hate saying that knowing the work that it took to make it. But often, so many of the satirical elements feel too sledgehammer. There’s Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story as a high watermark for films like this. And while moments of it caused fleeting enjoyment, others made me cringe.

Perhaps I’m not the audience for this, so let me say that you may enjoy it much more than me, as R.D did.


Rock Salt Releasing via TriCoast Releasing will begin streaming Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture onto various digital platforms (Amazon, inDemand, Fandango, FlixFling, and Vimeo on Demand) on August 11.

Here’s the rest of the great films released under the Rock Salt Releasing/TriCoast Worldwide co-banner we’ve reviewed:

Agatha Christine: Spy Next Door
Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids
Bombshells and Dollies
Case 347
It All Begins with a Song
Lone Star Deception
My Hindu Friend
Nona
Revival
The Soul Collector
Tombstone Rashomon

Disclaimer: We were sent a screener by the film’s PR company. That has no bearing on our review.

About the Authors: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies. Sam Panico is the curator of B&S About Movies.

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