American independent film from writer-director Todd Solondz. The subject matter alone -- the daily diet of torture and torment endured by a junior-high-school pariah -- hardly marks it as boldly independent in spirit: the underdog is as prized a figure in the mainstream as anywhere else. Other aspects of it seem a bit bolder: the unsentimentalizing of the victim (she passes along the received abuse to those younger and weaker than herself); the barn-broad streak of dark comedy (the abduction of the adored, pampered, tutu-wearing, Nutcracker-accompanied younger sister: although this could have turned much darker); the disallowance of any redemptive victory at the finish line. Still other aspects seem, albeit in a lighter weight division, to be typically Hollywood, or typically American, or typically Low Common Denominator: the single-mindedness of theme; the heavy-handedness of treatment; the elevation of the quest for laughs above the quest for truths (hideously caricatured adults, one and all). Like its short-sighted heroine, the movie craves immediate acceptance and approval. Heather Matarazzo, sporting a constant frown and a squint and an unhelpful pair of glasses and uniformly tacky clothes (shopping for which must have been sadistic fun), certainly looks like someone who might be a target of ridicule rather than someone who might be the next Molly Ringwald. But Matthew Faber (him especially) and Brendan Sexton, Jr., unfailingly steal their individual scenes as, respectively, the nerdy older brother grimly planning for his future, making no move uncalculated to better his chances at a good college, and the class bully tritely covering up his own insecurities. Their limited roles limit their limitations. (1995) — Duncan Shepherd
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