I watched Welcome to the Dollhouse tonight on Kenton's recommendation. It was really great--and very different in the sense that it deals with a pre-teen girls social "difficulties". Most films that tackle the story of the social outcast obviously use high school students. The comedy was very dark (just as I like it), and I laughed, and laughed.
I thought about why that is the case, and have come up with a few thoughts. The first thing that came to my mind is that if a film takes place in a high school, they can cast actors that are either already adults, or near adulthood. Heather Matarazzo, who played the protagonist, Dawn Wiener, would have been about 13 years old at the time of filming. That's really young to be tackling such a complex role, and many young actors would not be able to do such a part justice. Matarazzo was fantastic though, as was the entire young cast. If you're able to cast slightly older actors, and place them in a high school environment (where people are still known to be cruel).
Another thought that came to mind is the thought that most people are not comfortable with the idea of pre-teens rebelling, or experimenting in any sort of way. "Pre-teenhood" is tough in the sense that you're generally seen as a slightly older child (at least, that's how I was seen), and rebellion is not supposed to start occurring until high school. I remember when I was in 8th grade, a couple of my peers were caught smoking a cigarette on school property, though outside of school hours. The principal banned them from all the school dances (oh no!) as a result. Of course I'm not saying that kind of thing should be happening, but it does anyway. People just tend to like to plug their ears and ignore this fact. And since many stories like this one do involve some level of rebellion, filmmakers tend to keep it high school aged.
But I, for one, really appreciated the fact that Todd Solondz set it in a junior high school. Because as I said, it's not a perspective you often see. And it reminded me SO, so much of my middle school experience as the "unpopular girl" (a label that, unfortunately, stuck through high school, as I mentioned in my last post). Even Brandon (Brendan Sexton III) reminded me a little of several of the boys I went to school with way back then. Brandon's sympathetic portrayal made me really think about life back then. You can never really walk in another person's shoes, so you can't always know what causes someone to treat you the way they do. Maybe these boys had a difficult home life? I'll never know, and I don't need to know, but I hope that wherever they are, they're living in a way that allows them to sleep at night.
The dynamic of junior high, and high school is also completely different. I thought the character Mark Wiener (Matthew Faber) said it best: "High school's better than junior high. They'll call you names, but not as much to your face." I really couldn't have said it better myself.