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Heather Matarazzo, Matthew Faber, Brendan Sexton

Dawn: Why do you hate me?
Lolita: Because you’re ugly.

Dawn (Matarazzo) is a geeky pre-teen who gets picked on at school relentlessly, yet has no sanctuary at home either due to her poor relationship with her family.  When she tries to fight back against the bullying, she gets in trouble.  When she tells on another student for cheating, she also gets in trouble.  When Dawn meets the new lead singer of her brother’s terrible garage band, she falls instantly in love, even though he’s a high school senior.  Her real wish, though, is to just break free of this annoying existence she’s stuck in.

Though it might be slightly over the top at times, this movie is still about the most realistic (and brutal) depiction of kid-on-kid cruelty I’ve seen in a movie.  Having been a victim of some lighter bullying in my school career, I can sympathize with the futility of trying to strike back at one’s tormentors.  No matter what Dawn does, the misery just keeps getting piled on.

Her parents wish she was more like her cuter younger sister who likes to dance around in a ballerina outfit.  The sister’s favorite activity seems to be getting her older sister in trouble, and Dawn’s older, equally geeky, brother isn’t much nicer to her.  The older brother seems like some sort of early Napoleon Dynamite prototype, as do some of the other characters in the movie.

One thing I liked about this movie in particular is how they didn’t write Dawn as a perfect, wonderful person all the time.  She’s guilty of some of the very things she hates being on the receiving end of.  She hates her sister and isn’t afraid to tell her so, we see her knock a ball out of a little kid’s hands for no real reason, and she says mean, hurtful things about the only person who will be her friend.  This all rings true because when you’re bullied a lot, it is very tempting to try to find somebody that you can put down so that you don’t feel so low on the school social ladder.

Yeah, school is a messed up place…

There’s mostly (but not entirely) good acting here, plenty of funny moments, and plenty of cringe-worthy moments too.  Watching a 12 year old girl swoon over a high school senior (who was being played by a 24 year old actor) is always a little embarrassing.  Fortunately she never gets to the all out confession of love stage.

The only part of the story that felt a little contrived was Dawn’s trip to New York, and her reason for going.  It wasn’t a terrible plot development, it just seemed a little unnecessary.  I would have preferred they stick with the more every day relationship stuff that worked so well throughout the film.

The clarinet…or oboe…or whatever the older brother was playing…has no place in a garage band.

10 – 1 for the developments near the end that seemed contrived – .4 for being overly quirky at times – .5 for a few less than stellar performances + .1 for Heather Matarazzo being so good in the lead role = 8.2