By Bianca Garner
Trigger Warning: The topic of Transphobia is discussed below.
Sometimes writing your old standard review for certain films is a near impossible task. How does one even approach a film like Nicole Brending’s “Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture”? A film which left me feeling a wild array of emotions. Did I like it or did I loathe it? Well, it’s been a few weeks since I originally watched it and I still can’t give you a simple answer. I certainly had one hell of an experience watching the film, at times I found that I couldn’t help but laugh at the entire absurdity of it all but I also gasped out loud at its extremity and vulgarity. Brending didn’t seem content with simply crossing the line, she wanted to pull down her pants and take a massive shit on it.
However, there were certain elements of the film which really didn’t not sit well with me and as a result I felt they actually impacted my overall experience and impression of the film. I won’t disclose the details, but the film’s final act goes in an entirely different direction and considering what’s currently occurring with trans rights and the rampant transphobia in this current moment, my enjoyment of the film almost completely evaporated.
The film became less about celebrating equality for females and more of an attack on the trans community. I’m sorry, but equality isn’t about bringing one community or group down in order to bring another one up. It’s 2020, there’s no fucking excuse for any form of bigotry, misandry, misogyny or even misanthropy. After watching “Dollhouse” I was left feeling that the film was simply an excuse for Brending to express her personal grudges against the trans community. I’m not sure whether this film will hinder her career or not especially considering the current climate. However, the simple fact that it’s been made and screened at Slamdance film festival proves she’s not being oppressed. Her voice and work is being given a platform. How many trans filmmakers have been able to get their films made and screened at Slamdance, I wonder?
“After watching “Dollhouse” I was left feeling that the film was simply an excuse for Brending to express her personal grudges against the trans community.”
“Dollhouse” tells the rise and fall of fictional child pop star Junie Spoons. Picture Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears all rolled into one. It’s a savage takedown on our celebrity obsessed culture and the toxic world of Hollywood entertainment. Impressively, Brending wrote, directed, edited, and produced the film, voiced many of the characters, and designed the dolls that are used in place of actors.
“Brending didn’t seem content with simply crossing the line, she wanted to pull down her pants and take a massive shit on it.”
In a lot of ways, I respect Brending’s work ethic and attitude. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind and say the things which have been left unspoken for many years now. Yes, the entire entertainment industry is corrupt, exploitative and sexist. Yes, female stars are heavily sexualised at a very early age. And yes, we do have a weird attitude towards how we think ‘our’ stars are meant to behave and act.
There’s no doubt in my mind, that Brending is a feminist. And, that’s great. You have the right to be a feminist. We should all be feminists. But, we should all be allies to trans community too. I wonder whether Brending has had the chance to speak to a trans person about their reaction to the film? I also wonder whether she took the right approach in tackling what she clearly thinks is an important issue (in her own words “the logic behind trans ideology, and…how that logic was being used to silence women”). Is a satire featuring dolls and puppets, really the best way to discuss this topic or perhaps maybe a ‘documentary’ style approach would have been better?
Of course, it’s not for me to tell the director how to do their job. It’s her film and she’s standing behind her purpose and reasoning behind telling that story and featuring those characters. However, it’s my right to express my viewpoint about “Dollhouse”. Yes, for a good proportion of the film I was onboard. I found that I agreed with Brending’s take on Hollywood and I felt anger towards those who were exploiting Junie Spoons. Then we get that other Junie introduced and honestly I can’t even tell you how I feel because I am still processing my thoughts.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, that Brending is a feminist. And, that’s great. You have the right to be a feminist. We should all be feminists. But, we should all be allies to trans community too.”
I would love to reach out to Brending and ask for an interview. I have many questions and comments I wish to make to her, some negative and some positive. But, perhaps it’s not me she needs to have a conversation with. Maybe she needs to sit down with a trans film critic and have a reasonable discussion with them about her feeling towards the “eradication of female identity”. We can’t simply decide who does and doesn’t get to sit around the table of discussion…Life isn’t a Hollywood movie. It’s more complicated than that.
I want to end this review by saying that I am a feminist but I am also an ally to the trans community and their voices and opinions (along with Brending’s and my own) deserve to be heard too. If you’re interested in seeking “Dollhouse” out then please do and please reach out to trans critics for their impression of the film. I can’t give this film a rating as I am unsure how to even approach that part. So, for the first time in my reviewing career I am declining to give a rating. If Nicole Brending does wish to have a conversation then please reach out. Let’s talk.