Whether at school or at home in the New Jersey suburbs, 11-year-old Dawn Wiener has a miserable time of it. Ostracised and vilified by classmates as a 'lesbo', the 'Wienerdog' comes a cropper sticking up for herself against rough tough Brandon (Sexton): he responds by promising to rape her when school's out. Meanwhile, Mom makes it all too obvious she prefers her youngest, Missy, while Dawn's snooty brother Mark is reluctant to let her anywhere near his guitarist friend Steve, whose looks, musical skills and unthinking displays of kindness ensure she develops a crush on him. But would the high school hunk ever go out with a seventh-grader, or even join the exclusive 'Special Persons' club Dawn has founded with her only friend, poor little Ralphy next door? Admirably unsentimental exploration of the bewildering, cruel nightmare that is early adolescence: astutely perceptive, darkly comic and often profoundly and provocatively unsettling. If the film veers a little too closely to melodramatic parody towards the end, for the most part script and direction are spot-on, with writer/director Solondz carefully balancing insight and irony, humour and real tenderness. Sterling acting, particularly from Heather Matarazzo, whose remarkable blend of vulnerability and determination, dignity and vivacity effortlessly enrols our sympathies. Talents to watch.